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February 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.

Where Do I Park My Car?

Feb 28, 2011

Make sure new employees know and understand the rules of your dairy. It’s been found that an employee’s eventual success is closely related to the orientation process. If the employee gets a good start, he or she is much more likely to stay at the business.

ChuckSchwartau photoBy Chuck Schwartau
Extension Educator, University of Minnesota Extension
That simple question may look like it has little to do with workforce management -- and even less with immigrant workforce, but it really does tell a tale about your farm business and your employee management.
When a new employee comes to work the first time, does he or she know the very basic information of where to park their car, put their lunch box or can change into their work clothes? These are probably the most basic items that should be part of an employee orientation program.
Orientation is not the same as training. Training is related to skills and tasks necessary to perform the expected work on the farm. Training may include using specific implements or systems like a milking parlor. Training enables the employee to function effectively as part of the farm team.
I like to think of orientation as helping that employee become part of the team. Every farm has procedures and routines that make up the culture of the farm. Some of these may be obvious, but others are more subtle and not even given conscious attention. They just happen in normal course events without much thought.
If we go back to parking the car, most of the staff drives in at the beginning of their shift and parks in about the same place they probably park every day. If this is your first day at work, how do you know where to park? You may see other cars parked somewhere so you just get in line, but what if that happens to be the area where farm visitors are asked to park as part of biosecurity, not where employees are expected to park?
Now add the factor that this employee speaks little or no English. Not only don’t they know where to park, they have trouble asking and probably don’t know who to ask. That is pretty intimidating for a new employee.
It has been found the eventual success of an employee is closely related to the orientation process in the business. If the employee gets a good start, they are much more likely to stay at the business. This can also pay off with lower employee turnover. 
Orientation will demand an investment of time. The most important time is meeting the new employee the minute they arrive for their first day of work. It shows you care about them and that they are important to you and the farm. If the employee and you do not speak a common language, this is also the time to have a bilingual person with you, and maybe even turn over the orientation responsibility to the person speaking the employee’s language.
Some of that time should be devoted to introducing new employees to others on the farm and a general look at what happens on the farm. While some time will need to be devoted to their specific job, expose them to other people and tasks as well so they can see the system and get a better idea of how their job and every other job on the farm is important to the farm’s success. 
Make sure new employees know and understand the rules of the farm: 
·                     When and where are breaks taken? 
·                     Where are restrooms? 
·                     Where can they put their lunch when they come to work? 
·                     Is smoking allowed, and if so, where? 
·                     Is there a policy regarding cell phone use while working? 
·                     When is payday? 
·                     How is sick leave accumulated and accessed? 
·                     How much vacation is earned and how can it be used? 
·                     If an employee cannot make it to work, what are they expected to do? 
·                     What does and employee do if they are hurt on the job? 
·                     Don’t forget to have and communicate policies about harassment, discrimination and violence. 
Finally, make sure if they have questions, they should be comfortable asking them and they know who they can ask. As an employer, you’d much rather have that employee ask a question than make a potentially very expensive mistake because they didn’t understand a procedure they had been told or shown.
This is not an all inclusive list of items to cover, but it is a good start. It is advisable to check back with new employees regularly in the first few days and weeks. There will be questions coming up that they may hesitant to bring to you, but may open up more if you come to them. Show them you care.
Oh yeah – don’t forget to tell them where to park their car! 
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.

Comprehensive Immigration Reform in the Current Congress: Any Takers?

Feb 18, 2011

What does the new Congress mean for agriculture and dairy? There’s good and bad news.

Miltner photo   CopyBy Ryan Miltner, attorney
We are now six weeks into the new Congress. A perusal of the news coming from Washington turns up nary a mention of how to address the needs of agricultural employers or how to handle the 12 million or so undocumented workers currently in the country. 
The combination of the daunting fiscal issues facing the nation and the political changes from the last Congress combines to paint a dim picture for those hoping to see meaningful progress on immigration. As expected, budget considerations are dominating all debate on Capitol Hill. Remember that in the last Congress, Democrats held a 59-41 majority in the Senate and an overwhelming majority in the House of Representatives. Today, Republicans hold a dominant majority in the House, and the Democratic majority in the Senate is a slim six votes. 
It is fair to say that in the last Congress, the climate for a comprehensive immigration reform package was far better than today. AgJOBS, the legislation that specifically addressed the needs of the agriculture community, simply could not generate the support needed to bring the package to a vote in either chamber last term. 
So, where does that leave agriculture for the next two years? The good news is that, in general, agricultural employers are winning the policy debate as to whether the employment needs of producers and processors can be adequately met by the domestic labor force.  The bad news is, as the AgJOBS experience from last year demonstrates, agriculture cannot carry the weight of an immigration bill alone. 
Last month, former Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire addressed the attendees of the International Dairy Foods Association Dairy Forum. Senator Gregg, a Republican, had a reputation as a relative moderate and leader on budgetary issues. Before leaving the Senate, he served on the bipartisan task force on the federal budget deficit. So, his comments came coupled with the background of someone well versed on the budget struggles that the Congress will be pre-occupied with during the next year.
Senator Gregg made clear that the principle obstacle to immigration reform is not over workers for agriculture but over amnesty for those in the country illegally and protecting the American workforce. Before any discussion about meeting the hiring needs of the farm sector can be had, legislation must include one or more of the following policies: 
  • First, the southern border must be secured.  That point is not open to political debate. 
  • Second, federal policy must ensure that employers are hiring legal workers. As other “Labor Matters” columnists have explained in prior articles, employer compliance with I-9 requirements does not ensure that employers are hiring legal workers. More troubling is that the federal government’s E-Verify system is not sufficient, either. A government study suggested that E-Verify fails to catch one out of two illegal workers. Earlier studies concluded that E-Verify also erroneously reports back that many legal workers are undocumented. These errors underscore that E-Verify is not ready for mandatory use.
  • Third, reforms should promote immigration that allows the best and brightest workers to come to America and fill our scientific and technical needs. Current policies bring foreign students here to learn, and then return too many of those graduates to their home countries with their world-class American educations. 
  • Finally, and this may be the trickiest part, any pathway afforded to workers currently in country must be a pathway to legal status--not a pathway to citizenship. That pathway, if it can be crafted, must include, in Senator Gregg’s opinion, both civil monetary penalties along with other remedial action. The version of AgJOBS introduced in the last Congress included such provisions. Whether that framework can be applied in a comprehensive bill is open to debate.
Last week, ICE began audits of about 1,000 businesses’ employment records. The fallout is predictable. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of illegal workers will be fired. Many of those will have deportation proceedings commenced. Some businesses that did not comply with I-9 or E-Verify requirements will face enforcement proceedings. Other businesses that did comply may still lose workers that were presumed to be employable. But these actions will have no significant effect on the number of illegal aliens working in the country. Perhaps the upheaval for the affected businesses will inspire some action toward a comprehensive reform effort. 
But I have yet to find anyone holding their breath.

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

Immigration and Dairy: Got Reform in 2011?

Feb 14, 2011

The issue is simply too important to ignore, so here is a snapshot of the proposed solution, the political reality and what you can do to protect your business in the meantime.

Erich Straub   CopyBy Erich C. Straub, immigration attorney
The dust has begun to settle from the November 2010 elections, so Washington politicians again are focusing on an issue that never seems to get resolved: immigration reform. Based on the failures of the past, one could understand such talk being dismissed by the dairy industry. But the issue is simply too important to ignore, so here is a snapshot of the proposed solution, the political reality and what you can do to protect your business in the meantime.
There is one bill that solves the short and long-term labor and immigration needs of dairy: the Agricultural Job Opportunities, Benefits and Security Act, or “AgJOBS” as it is more commonly known. AgJOBS creates a route for undocumented workers to file for temporary lawful residence or a “blue card.” These same workers could eventually qualify for lawful permanent residence and citizenship. The bill would also streamline the H-2A visa process, currently the only avenue available for the agricultural industry to obtain “seasonal” foreign workers. Significantly, AgJOBS would make the H-2A visa available for the first time to dairy. Under the current H-2A rules, dairy workers are not eligible because they normally do not meet the definition of seasonal.
AgJOBS accomplishes two important goals for dairy:
  1. Legalizing the current, well-trained workforce on many operations;
  2. Creating access to a future, legal immigrant labor force. The bill enjoys bi-partisan support and in the past has had enough votes to win approval if based on a simple majority.
The Politics
So why hasn’t AgJOBS become law?There are two main reasons. First, in our present political environment, winning takes 60 votes in the U.S. Senate rather than 51. Second, AgJOBS has always been packaged with “comprehensive” immigration reform, which contains proposals that are more controversial. In the aftermath of the November elections, political analysts were quick to sound the death knell for reform in 2011. The subsequent defeat of the DREAM Act in the lame-duck session of Congress only darkened those projections.
Given such a dire outlook, something funny happened last week. As reported on, Democratic and Republican Senators started talking about reform again. Why the sudden charge? The simple answer may be that both parties have begun to position themselves for the 2012 election. Despite big gains in November, Republicans are now wrestling with the reality that political strategy in a presidential election is markedly different than in the mid-terms. Democrats, particularly President Obama, are eager to deliver on past promises of immigration reform. Both parties are targeting the same demographic of voters: Hispanics, whom most political analysts agree will be an even bigger factor in 2012.
The Challenge Ahead
So what can those in dairy do in such a challenging political environment? First, you can protect yourself and your business by being mindful of the current law enforcement trends. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has abandoned large-scale, spectacular raids in favor of I-9 audits or “silent raids.” Make sure you have detailed and standardized I-9 procedures in place because the government again is expanding the number of audits for the coming year. Second, make sure you call, write or meet with your congressional representatives and make your opinions known, particularly if that person is newly elected. The future of your business, your industry and your community may depend on it.
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. 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, and in 2008, the Milwaukee Business Journal described him as a “national leader on the federal immigration issue.” Contact him at (414) 224-8472 or

Create a Positive Work Environment for Your Hispanic Employees

Feb 07, 2011

You don’t have to spend a lot of money to develop a good work climate. Here are several ways to improve morale and team work even in tough economic times.

By Dr. Mireille Chahine, Associate Professor and Extension Dairy Specialist, University of Idaho; and Mario de Haro Marti, Extension Educator, University of Idaho
Chahine photo   Copy
Dr. Mireille Chahine
Dairy producers tend to be very satisfied with their Hispanic employees’ work ethics and often describe them as hard-working individuals who rarely take sick days and who dedicate most of their time to work. 
There is a general agreement that times have been very tough for dairy producers, and dairy employees are being asked to do more with less. This significantly raises the stress level on a dairy and could lead to an unpleasant work environment, negatively affecting the productivity of the dairy as well as employees’ retention. 
Many of us have been employed at places that we were less than excited to wake up and go to work at. It is not a pleasant experience. Several articles have been written and numerous seminars have been conducted on this subject, but dairies still struggle when attempting to create a positive work environment for their Hispanic employees. Dairy owners and managers feel overwhelmed, and they do not know where to start.  
Remember that employees who work in a welcoming environment are more productive, and that a good work climate will improve morale and team work even in tough economic times. 
DeHaro Marti photo   Copy
Mario de Haro Marti
So, let’s look at some ways to create a positive working environment for your Hispanic (and non-Hispanic) workforce without spending a lot of money.
1.                   Avoid yelling at your employees. Have you ever been yelled at? Do you remember how you felt when someone was talking to you in a disrespectful manner? Hispanic workers are very sensitive to the tone of voice used to communicate with them. They become very offended and very defensive when someone yells at them, insults them or embarrasses them. In addition, yelling diminishes the authority of a manager. So the next time you talk to one of your workers, deliberately think about the tone of voice you are using and make sure you are talking to them calmly and with respect. We can assure you will have a better luck retaining a good, reliable dairy workforce.
2.                   Treat employees with courtesy and respect but do not become buddies. Great managers command respect by example. They are kind and courteous with all employees without exceptions or preferences. If you start some type of friendship with some employees, keep that friendship outside the workplace and always draw limits at work to avoid conflict of interests.
3.                   Be fair and do not play favorites. Justice and fairness should always be standard practices on a dairy. A dairy producer/manager should never play favorites to avoid fomenting anger and losing respect.
4.                   Recognize a job well done. Recognizing employees does not have to involve spending a lot of money. Studies have shown that recognizing someone immediately after they do a good job is very powerful. An unexpected small gift or a free lunch might also be nice. Just make sure not to always give the same gift so it does not become an expectation.
5.                   Show interest in your workers. Understand the importance and show interest in the Hispanic worker’s family and culture. Dairy producers need to remember that family is very important in the Hispanic culture. Hispanic employees miss their family if they are far away, or have a whole different set of struggles if they are close (new society, culture, language, etc.), but they often do not share their feelings with their boss because they do not want to upset him/her. 
6.                   Be approachable. Hispanic workers not only are hard-working people, they also bring to the dairy new ideas and ways to perform some tasks. In addition, all workers on a dairy perform daily operations and sometimes they observe problems with the procedures they do on a daily basis. You need to be open and approachable, so your employees feel comfortable sharing with you their ideas on how to improve the operation, save money, time or make their job easier or more enjoyable without losing quality.
7.                   Treat Hispanic and all workers as individuals and not as a group. Recognize that all employees are individuals and they expect to be treated as a person. Avoid generalizations when you address them, in your management decisions, and in worker recognition or warnings.
8.                   Make sure middle management is on board. Make sure that middle managers know about the workplace rules. We personally know several dairy owners who are wonderful but they really do not know how their middle manager employees are treating the Hispanic workers. Most of the time, the owners are very approachable to their managers and they believe that, with that, everything will be OK. Be open to all of your employees, and sometimes check out how employees feel about their managers.
In summary, remember that most of the time people do not leave jobs, they leave managers. Respect your employees as human beings with rights to be treated fairly.  Individuals -- independent of the cultural background they come from -- are way more similar than different. It is important to understand the differences, but it is very important to recognize that we all strive to provide for our families, to educate and ensure a better future for our children and also have a better life by working in a safe and respectful environment. 
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
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