Wisconsin Dairy Wage War

April 2, 2015 11:26 AM
Wisconsin Dairy Wage War

The scramble for farm workers in the “Dairy State” of Wisconsin has become so intense some are calling it a veritable wage war.

“Some employees will leave for as little as 25¢ an hour,” says Tom Wall, with Dairy Interactive, LLC and Language Links, LLC. Wall spoke this week at the Dairy Calf and Heifer Association annual meeting Madison, Wis.

“But remember, these same employees will probably leave their next employer for 25¢ an hour as well,” he says.

You don’t want to get into a bidding war with neighbors because that never ends well. But you have to know what the landscape is for wages in your area to ensure that you have a competitive wage structure in place.

The key, says Wall, is to pay for performance. “You have to value what you value,” he says. So you have to pay competitively for those positions that are critical to your operation. If you give automatic raises every six or 12 months, the incentive for employees is simply not to get fired.

The best way to fight the wage war is to create a culture where your farm is a place where employees want to work. Word will soon get around that your dairy is a good place to work.

There are five steps to creating such a culture, says Wall:

• Clarify what you need. Be specific and intentional in job descriptions and what type of person you need for each position.

• Provide recognition and pay for performance.

• Communicate often. Manage by walking around, praising employees when they do something right and re-training when they do something wrong.

• Manage by paying attention. Trust, but verify employees are doing what they say they are doing.

• Connect. Make sure you express your appreciate for employees often. Remember, says Wall, “you depend on them and they depend on you.

“Be present, pay attention and manage the situation,” he says. The reality is, if you don’t do these things and actively manage employees, it puts you behind other operations that do these things well. And that’s when you lose employees for 25¢ an hour.


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Spell Check

Miguel "Mike" Ortega
Kenosha, WI
4/2/2015 02:12 PM

  On the plus side, while employees at Chipotle & Starbucks are protesting their wages and benefits, some of the more modern farms in our state have been able to position themselves with family sustaining wages, benefits, retirement plans, vacations, etc. This might have seemed inconceivable just a decade ago!


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