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October 2011 Archive for Labor Matters

RSS By: Dairy Today: Labor Matters, Dairy Today

Experts cover today’s key dairy labor issues and offer fool-proof techniques to optimize employee performance, sat­isfaction and longevity.

Spell It Out in an Employee Handbook

Oct 31, 2011

Employee handbooks encourage employers to face important decisions about employee policies rather than continuing to postpone them. Put your policies in writing to clarify and protect. 

ChuckSchwartau photoBy Chuck Schwartau, University of Minnesota Extension
One of the most common topics for calls and consultations in recent months has been employee handbooks. Employers are experiencing situations with their employees that need some common-sense solutions but also solutions that can be consistent for other employees and situations. If every problem is handled individually, you open the door for inconsistency, employee dissatisfaction and perhaps even allegations of discrimination. 
Right along with those questions are usually the ones asking if an employee can be put on salary rather than an hourly wage. The employer’s thought process is usually looking for a way to add more flexibility, lessen record-keeping (time sheets) and avoid having to pay overtime, etc. In short, the employer wants to minimize his or her own work necessary to being an employer. Unfortunately, nothing comes for free.
While each employment method has its pluses and minuses, you need to be sure you understand what you get with each and what you give up, especially if you don’t have a good employee policy manual in place. 
Here is an example from a recent call. An employee didn’t show up for his shift and didn’t notify the employer in advance that he wouldn’t be there. Besides scrambling to get that shift covered, what do you do? If the employee is an hourly one, you have the leverage of not paying him or her for time he or she didn’t work. If you have to pay someone else overtime, or call back another employee to cover you, at least have something in the checkbook with which you can pay them. Having employees on an hourly basis does create a bit more work preparing payroll, and you have to consider how you manage the workforce and overtime, but it can be pretty clearly defined.
What do you do if the employee is salaried and doesn’t show up? Can you simply deduct from their bi-weekly or monthly pay the equivalent of one shift’s pay? While it sounds good, it might be a problem if your policy manual doesn’t include a process of warnings and/or penalties for failure to show up for work. The common first response is,”Deduct from the pay check,” but it might not stand up if the employee challenges you and they had not been given any indication of consequences for their action. 
This situation could have been relatively easy to answer, and maybe even have been prevented, if there was a clear policy manual that spells out the consequences of missing a shift without an excused absence. If employees know there is a financial consequence, it becomes clear to them what happens to their paycheck when they don’t show up and they may think twice about missing in the first place. It is also easy then for the employer to remind the employee of the policy and the consequences of the action. Just be sure every employee has a copy of the policies and indicates they understand them.
Tom Maloney of Cornell University suggests several reasons for having an employee handbook. Two of those reasons are:
·         Help assure that all employees are treated fairly and consistently.
·         Encourage employers to face important decisions about employee policies rather than continuing to postpone them.
Those last two reasons can prevent a lot of employee/employer relationship problems on farms. It takes some time to develop a good employee policy manual, but it can be time that yields great dividends in a smoother system. Most employees are willing to follow good procedures if they clearly know what they are.
For further information about the value of employee policy manuals and a guide that can help you develop a manual for your farm, take a look at theUniversity of Minnesota Extension Dairy webpage. Under the “Employees” link, scroll down to “managing,” where you will find a more detailed article, “The Value of Employee Handbooks” and an “Employee Handbook Development Guide” that should help you determine what subjects should be addressed in your handbook. 
An employee handbook is never really done as there are frequently new situations, rules and perhaps even regulations that need to be brought to the attention of all employees. This framework will get you started in the right direction, though.
Back to the question of the absent employee. Think about it a while yourself and maybe even bring it up as a “What should we do if. . .?” question for discussion at an employee meeting. You might be surprised how they answer. It could be a good start for your policy handbook. 
Chuck Schwartau has been with the University of Minnesota Extension Service for 31 years. As part of the Extension Dairy Team, he focuses on workforce development and management, dairy business organization and risk management. Contact him at or (507) 536-6301.

It’s the Economy, Stupid

Oct 24, 2011

The Georgia and Alabama laws are a piecemeal approach to a broken immigration system. Perhaps it is time for their supporters to acknowledge that their “solution” is based on a ridiculously simplistic view of the economy.

Erich Straub   CopyBy Erich Straub, attorney
“It’s the economy, stupid.” These words propelled Bill Clinton to an improbable victory over George H.W. Bush in 1992, and they have echoed in every presidential election since. It is not surprising that, in a sour economy and a little over a year before the 2012 election, the litany is being repeated over and over again: jobs, jobs, and more jobs.
But this time it has a slightly different twist. Some politicians are contending that the U.S. actually has enough jobs, but we need to take them away from undocumented immigrants and hand them over to law-abiding U.S. citizens.
This is the argument behind Congressman Lamar Smith’s recent Legal Workforce Act that would mandate E-Verify nationwide. E-Verify is the voluntary federal electronic system to verify employment authorization. Mr. Smith described his legislation as a “job creation bill.” 
Many state legislators, most notably in Arizona, Georgia and Alabama, have made similar arguments. In those states, new laws have been passed that target undocumented workers and their employers. The Georgia and Alabama laws are particularly relevant to dairy producers because, unlike Arizona, agriculture is a very significant portion of the economy in those two states.
The Georgia law requires most businesses in the state to enroll in E-Verify. Despite Mr. Smith’s attempts to change it, E-Verify remains voluntary at the federal level. The Georgia immigration law mandates that businesses with 500 or more employees begin using the program by April 1, 2012. Businesses with at least 10 employees must begin using E-Verify by July 2013. 
In addition, the law creates a new crime of “aggravated identity fraud” for individuals willfully and fraudulently using counterfeit or fictitious identifying information for the purpose of obtaining employment, which will be punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
Similar to its Georgia counterpart, the Alabama immigration law requires businesses to participate in E-Verify. Additionally, the law prohibits state government entities from awarding contracts or providing grants or other incentives to employers that fail to enroll in E-Verify, effective January 1, 2012. The law also creates a state cause of action for U.S. citizens and legal immigrants against employers that refuse to hire or that discharge them while knowingly or negligently employing immigrants not authorized to work.
The Georgia and Alabama laws are a piecemeal approach to a broken immigration system that should be fixed at the federal level. While passage of these laws is unfortunate, their implementation may offer a real world test of the very principle that spurred their passage: Will unemployed U.S. citizens living in Georgia and Alabama now flock to the jobs being vacated by undocumented immigrants?
The early returns have been a rebuke to the supporters of the new laws. In both Georgia and Alabama, passage of the laws did have the expected effect of a mass exodus of immigrant workers from industries such as agriculture. But U.S. workers have not stepped in in significant numbers to take their places.
In Georgia, it has been widely reported that as many as 11, 000 jobs have gone unfilled this season in the agriculture industry. Many Georgia farmers were not amused by Gov. Nathan Deal’s proposed solution of using 8,000 workers who were on probation with the State Department of Corrections. The Alabama law just went into effect last week, but similar worker shortages have already been well documented.
Perhaps it is time for Mr. Smith, Gov. Deal and other state legislators to acknowledge that their “solution” to the nation’s broken immigration system is based on a ridiculously simplistic view of the economy. It is doubtful that most in the agricultural sector view a modern version of chain gangs as a solution to the rural labor crisis.
Maybe the proponents of these new laws should remember the tried and true political strategy: “It’s the economy, stupid.”
I would make only a slight modification to the principle: Don’t be so stupid with the economy.
Erich C. Straub is an immigration lawyer who practices in Wisconsin and is listed in The Best Lawyers in America, SuperLawyers, and U.S. News and World Report’s Best Law Firms. Mr. Straub has spoken to audiences throughout the U.S. on immigration, and frequently advises Wisconsin Dairy Farmers on the topic. He has traveled Washington, D.C., to meet with elected officials regarding immigration reform. In 2008, the Milwaukee Business Journal described him as a “national leader on the federal immigration issue.” Contact him at (414) 224-8472 or

SOPs: A Great Tool for Effective Communication on Dairies

Oct 14, 2011

Well-written standard operating procedures provide direction, improve communication, reduce training time and improve work consistency.

Chahine photo   Copy
By Dr. Mireille Chahine and Dr. Rick Norell, Extension Dairy Specialists, University of Idaho
Dairy herd performance is optimized when routine management tasks are consistently followed by the dairy crew.  Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) development is essential to ensure that routine tasks are done the same way by everyone, every time. SOPs can be used to facilitate training of new employees and can be used to evaluate employee performance.  
It is especially important to have SOPs in place if you employ Hispanic workers because some of them might not fully understand written or oral instructions in English. Developing SOPs in English and Spanish will provide step-by-step instructions on how a routine task is done.
Some dairies avoid creating SOPs because they consider the work to be relatively consuming, so they do not take time to generate them. Taking time to generate SOPs for tasks conducted routinely on the dairy (feed bunk management, feeding, milking routines, parlor management, treatment protocols, semen handling, calf raising, etc.) will increase operational effectiveness by improving consistency in daily management practices. This, in turn, can increase herd performance and profitability.
SOPs written in English and Spanish will also improve communication among farm workers and improve training of Hispanic employees. Exemplary performance doesn't just happen; rather, it is driven by effective training, motivation and communication between the key players on the dairy team. Well-written SOPs provide direction, improve communication, reduce training time and improve work consistency. 
SOPs provide:
1.       A guide for relief workers filling in during vacations, illness or turnover;
2.       A standard reference for employee training;
3.       Reduce chaos and confusion when employees leave;
4.       Improve consistency of job performance;
5.       Approved procedures that reduce the risk of job failures and interruptions;
6.       A basis for effective performance evaluation;
7.       Improved acceptance of practices because people support what they help create.
8.       A means for everyone to think through the whole process of a task.
9.       A statement of who does what, where, why and how.
10.   Legal protection since a detailed process is documented.
11.   Reference document in accident investigations.               
12.   An opportunity to build unity around attainable standards and goals with procedures to achieve them.
13.   An evaluation of labor efficiency and procedural correctness
14.   A checklist for co- workers to observe performance and reinforce it if it's correct.
15.   An aid in writing job descriptions and identifying skill requirements.
SOPs can take considerable time and effort to develop. Yet they can have very high value for attaining consistency in dairy management. They can build a sense of teamwork and a sense of order about the job at hand. Once developed, they need to be implemented and evaluated with periodical revisions or as needed.
Dr. Mireille Chahine is Associate Professor and Extension Dairy Specialist in the Animal and Veterinary Science Department at the University of Idaho in Twin Falls. Contact her at 208-736-3609 or


Legal Workforce Act Marked Up; Lacks Ag Labor Fix

Oct 10, 2011

Representative Lamar Smith’s “Legal Workforce Act” proposes re-tooling the current H2A visa program and limiting the number of visas to 500,000 per year. But the current demands of agriculture are for at least 1.2 million workers annually.

Miltner photo   CopyBy Ryan Miltner, attorney
In my last entry for Labor Matters, I wrote about the different legislative actions that states are taking to deal with immigration and how have so many different state requirements might actually spur Congress to action on some kind of immigration reform bill. 
Since then, the House Judiciary Committee has held hearings to “mark up” one such piece of legislation, Representative Lamar Smith’s “Legal Workforce Act” (H.R. 2885). 
In a mark-up, the members of a committee discuss a bill, offer and vote on amendments, and ultimately determine whether the bill would be approved by the entire committee. Following the mark-up of the Legal Workforce Act, the Judiciary Committee sent the bill to the full House. The next step would be for the House of Representatives to take actions. 
From a business standpoint, the marked-up bill contains several provisions that employers generally favor, or at least favor in the political context of a mandatory E-Verify world. First, the bill contains strong pre-emption laws that would prohibit individual states from enacting their own laws on immigration and hiring. This would prevent measures such as the Arizona Legal Workers Act. This kind of preemption would be required to prevent the kind of patchwork regulation that is beginning to develop.
With respect to E-Verify, the bill mandates its use, and phases in compliance. For agricultural laborers, compliance with E-Verify would be required 36 months after enactment.  
Also important is a strong “safe harbor” provision to protect employers. Under the safe harbor, employers who act in good faith to comply with the requirements of the Act would be immune from civil and criminal liability for any employment related action. Providing employers with assurance that compliance with E-Verify requirements would insulate them from liability from federal and state governmental entities as well as employees, is critical to achieving a working bill. 
Now, turning to agriculture visas, there are continuing debates over what changes, if any, are to be made to specific visas for agricultural laws. Representative Smith, the principal sponsor of the Legal Workforce Act, proposes re-tooling the current H2A visa program and limiting the number of visas to 500,000 per year. But the current demands of agriculture are for at least 1.2 million workers annually.
More problematic, however, is that the H2A program is not workable for the vast majority of agricultural employers, including dairies, because the visas are limited in time. Year-round ag operations need visas that provide for long-term certainty of labor. 
The feeling among agricultural employers, and this is a feeling with which I personally concur, is that an enforcement-only bill that does not include provisions that provide for a stable workforce for all of agriculture (including dairy) cannot be supported. 
Ryan Miltner is an agricultural and estate planning lawyer in private practice. His agricultural practice is focused on dairy policy and the economic regulation of the dairy industry. The opinions in this article are his own observations prepared for Dairy Today and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of any of his clients. Contact him at

Train Your Milkers to Make You More Money

Oct 02, 2011

If you haven’t yet provided training to your milking crew, don’t assume they already understand or that they don’t need to understand.

GregCofftaPhoto webBy Greg Coffta, Cornell University’s Northwest New York Dairy, Livestock and Field Crops team

During times of high -- or low -- milk prices, scouting for ways to improve income in the milking parlor is a wise way to spend a little time. Many cooperatives pay producers based on a scale of milk quality, so if a dairy operation is seeking more income, an obvious method is to improve quality. 

This trend has emerged recently, and producers are implementing various strategies for improvement. These include milking parlor and routine evaluations, changing routines, changing equipment, updating equipment, improved mastitis monitoring and overall vigilance. 

It’s easy to get caught up in a whirlwind of systematic changes, only to be left wondering which strategies are and are not working. It’s also easy to waste a lot of capital and time. Before adopting a costly or potentially risky change, consider providing training to your Spanish-speaking milking crew to improve current and continued milk quality. After all, they live in the heart of the dairy operation. It’s important that they too develop an understanding of milk quality and prices.

The first step is to provide an educational meeting to inform Spanish-speaking employees about milk quality topics such as somatic cell count, bacteria count, mastitis, treated cows, milk components, etc.  If you haven’t yet provided training to your milking crew, don’t assume that they already understand or that they don’t need to understand. It is important that they develop a knowledge of the job and the reasoning behind the procedures. This allows for improvement and for their ability to make good, independent decisions when you are not readily available for advice. 

Look around for agribusinesses or Extension programs in the area that can provide these services. Try to find a program that offers support for dairy farms that employ Spanish speakers and that includes a wide range of dairy-specific training programs, meeting facilitations and document creation in Spanish.  Another option might be to work with your milk testing lab. It may have a bilingual staff member that can tailor a training program with a parlor evaluation, laboratory analyses and other specialized services.

Along with milker training, continued follow-up is essential to ensure that employees are adhering to procedures and that they understand protocols. A regular staff meeting is an excellent forum for discussing these topics and addressing the unforeseen issues that will certainly arise.

At the staff meeting, always include a time to discuss the somatic cell count (SCC), and keep the information posted in the break room for the employees to review. Use the SCC to set goals and benchmark progress. Create standard operating procedures and post them conspicuously around the parlor and milk house. Remember, however, that SOPs are most effective when they are introduced to the employees as part of training and then periodically revisited in staff meetings. 

Finally, once some gains have been made, consider introducing a quality milk bonus to motivate and reward employees for producing quality milk. This builds a sense of positive interdependence among your milking employees. A clear understanding, a clear goal and a sense of teamwork can help your milkers make you more money.

In his role as bilingual dairy support specialist for Cornell University’s Northwest New York Dairy, Livestock and Field Crops team, Greg Coffta provides training, translations and meeting facilitation as well as management consulting in English to New York dairy farms. He obtained his bachelor’s degree from SUNY College in Brockport with a double major in Spanish and communications. He earned a master’s degree in education from the University at Buffalo. Contact Coffta at

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