California Agriculture

Turnover rates are decreasing in California dairies
Volume 66, Number 4, October-December 2012, pp. 153-158.

Dairy employees in the San Joaquin Valley are staying longer in their jobs. Our study in 2009 showed that the average length of employment has increased 250% since 1953 and 40% since 1984. However, tenures among non-Hispanic employees were twice as long as among Hispanic employees, suggesting there are opportunities to further increase workforce stability. The reasons why workers leave dairies are mostly the same as they were 30 and 60 years ago. We also compared our 2009 California interview results with recent studies in the eastern United States, where trends were similar. See 1984 study.

Quality evaluations should not be taken for granted
Volume 61, Number 1, January-March 2007, pp. 35-39.

Subjective quality-evaluation errors in agriculture, such as discarding good-quality product and packing poor-quality product, can be costly to growers and workers. This study of workers and supervisors in a strawberry-plant packingshed revealed the danger in assuming that those responsible for quality control truly understand what is required. We found that the ability of workers to correctly count plants, and to retain or reject them (and explain why), varied considerably. The results highlight the need for employers to carefully define quality parameters, and then test employees and applicants. When top management does not agree on exactly what constitutes acceptable quality, it is difficult to expect quality-control inspectors and workers to understand. Testing, as a tool, can help growers and producers make better employee selection and placement decisions and can also be used for periodic training.

Interpersonal communication tops concerns of farm supervisors
Volume 55, Number 5, September-October 2001, pp. 40-43.

Of 42 farm supervisors interviewed in the San Joaquín Valley, most gave their jobs high ratings but found it difficult to discipline and fire employees.

Farm workers positive about their jobs, but suggest improvements
Volume 53, Number 1, January-February 1999, pp. 33-36.

Seasonal and year-round farm workers have positive feelings towards their jobs and their supervisors. An important implication is that workers may not necessarily be looking for work outside of agriculture. Farm workers made numerous suggestions for supervisors and farm employers, such as the importance of treating workers with respect.

Workers prefer growers over FLCs
Volume 50, Number 6, January-February 1997, pp. 30, 32.

Given a choice, crew workers overwhelmingly prefer working for a grower rather than for a farm labor contractor. FLCs generally have a couple of advantages over growers: (1) less of a language barrier, and (2) the potential for providing longer work seasons. Nevertheless, it is growers who are perceived by workers as providing more work (per day and per season); better pay, benefits, and working conditions; better treatment, and even better communications and instructions.

Crew workers split between hourly and piece-rate pay
Volume 50, Number 6, November-December 1996, pp. 5-8.

Despite the potential benefits of piece rate, crew workers were evenly divided between those who favor hourly pay and those who prefer piece-rate pay. Crew worker concern about how piece rates are determined played a key role in the unexpectedly low preference for piece rate. Suggestions are offered for establishing piece rates as pay incentives.

High piece-rate wages do not reduce hours worked
Volume 49, Number 1, January-February 1995, pp. 17-18.

Some farmers resist increasing incentive pay levels when compensating seasonal crew workers. They have hypothesized that workers have a certain earnings goal for each day and that once this goal is achieved, workers will go home. This study shows that crew workers generally do not have such an earnings goal. When piece-rate paid crew workers do leave work early, it is more likely because they are overly hot or tired or that wages are low.

For wages and benefits, bigger dairies may be better, Barbara Reed
Volume 48, Number 2, March-April 1994, pp. 9-13.

Wages and benefits offered to dairy employees are highly variable. Herd managers and milkers earn more on larger dairies. Union employees out-earn their non-union counterparts in wages and benefits.

Pay method affects vineyard pruner performance
Volume 46, Number 5, September-October 1992, pp. 12-13.

Vineyard pruners paid on a piece-rate basis tend to work more quickly than those paid by the hour. Pay method had little effect on pruning quality as perceived by growers, although crews paid by the hour did seem to do a slightly better job. Total pruning costs were also influenced by vine vigor and vineyard location.

Predicting vineyard pruner performance
Volume 42, Number 2, March-April 1988, pp. 13-14.

More efficient pruners can be selected through the use of a properly designed job-sample test. A job-sample test can predict worker performance on the job. This is not true if there is no consistent measure of the criterion (i.e., job performance). This research shows that job-sample tests in agriculture can be extremely valid. Validity correlations as high as r = 0.68 were obtained.

Testing to predict tomato harvest worker performance
Volume 41, Numbers 5 and 6, May-June 1987, pp. 16-17.

This pioneer study was successful in showing that a job-sample test for tomato pickers was able to predict employee performance on the job. Workers ranged from being able to pick 3 to 12 pairs of tomato buckets per half hour. Workers who picked more in the test also picked more on the job. Validity correlations as high as r = 0.57 were obtained.

Response to incentive pay among vineyard workers
Volume 39, Numbers 7 and 8, July-August 1985, pp. 13-14.

When paid by the vine, pruners usually spread considerably throughout the field. However, there are circumstances wherein piece rate does not bring these differences out. Employees sometimes fear that fast work and high earnings at present, for instance, may result in a lowered piece rate in the future.

Why workers leave dairies
Volume 38, Number 9, September 1984, pp. 26-28.

Most separations are worker initiated and involve single causes. However, there are a large number of different reasons that can lead to worker turnover. About 80 percent of the turnover was under some degree of dairy operator control. See 2012 update.

Giannini Foundation

Agricultural Employment Testing: Opportunities for Increased Worker Performance (1988, 26pp.)

Workers, even at the lower end of the pay scale, perform at different levels, and more efficient workers can be selected through the use of properly designed selection systems that include job-sample tests.

Other Research

Party-Directed Mediation: Pushing the Envelope in Interpersonal Conflict
International Association for Conflict Management
Paper presented in Seville, Spain, 15 June 2005

Mediator styles vary on a number of dimensions. One such factor relates to degree of mediator directiveness. This paper introduces and defends a model--Party-Directed Mediation--that empowers parties to increasingly take more responsibility for the resolution of their conflict. Not all conflicts lend themselves to Party-Directed Mediation. The model is especially designed for conflicts affecting co-workers, neighbors, members of family owned businesses and other instances where parties will continue to live or work together after the mediator goes home. In recent decades a number of mediation styles have moved away from mediator-directed approaches, with the idea of empowering parties. The Party-Directed Mediation approach pushes the envelope in terms of empowering parties and reducing mediator directiveness. This is mainly accomplished through two somewhat controversial techniques: (1) the pre-caucus (where the mediator meets alone with each party before ever bringing both parties together); and (2) the party-directed joint session (where the parties sit facing across from each other and direct their comments to each other rather than to the mediator).

The Negotiated Performance Appraisal Model: Enhancing
Supervisor-Subordinate Communication and Conflict

Group Facilitation: A Research and Applications Journal
Number 10, Spring 2010, pp. 32-42.

This paper introduces the Negotiated Performance Appraisal (NPA) model, a facilitated performance appraisal process designed to enhance supervisor-subordinate dialogue. It was first applied in Uganda in 1996, and has served to improve hierarchical communication within organizations. This article is directed towards facilitators involved in organizational development, as well as organizational consultants and workplace mediators. Supervisors are often hesitant to share their true feelings—both positive and negative—with subordinates. Subordinates, in turn, are apt to feel unduly judged by their supervisors and frustrated with their jobs. Traditional performance appraisals have long been criticized for not helping to promote effective dialogue. The strength of the NPA model lies in its structure, which encourages candid two-way conversation about past, present, and future performance. It is precisely this candid conversation that extends the usefulness of the NPA beyond performance appraisal, as an alternate mediation model for supervisor-subordinate disputes. See Table 2, p. 38, Facilitator Evaluation Score Sheet for the Negotiated Performance Appraisal. Based on paper delivered in Kyoto, Japan, at the International Association for Conflict Management (IACM), 2009.

Contributions of Caucusing and Pre-caucusing to Mediation
Group Facilitation: A Research and Applications Journal
Number 4, Spring 2002, pp. 3-11.

Drawing on his work as a researcher and practicing mediator in interpersonal organizational conflict, the author argues that pre-caucusing—a separate meeting between the mediator and each of the stakeholders before they are ever brought together into a joint session—can not only overcome many of the negatives often associated with caucusing, but has the potential of becoming a pillar of conflict management. This is especially so when pre-caucusing is integrated into a transformative mediation framework. Pre-caucusing affords stakeholders the opportunity to vent and be heard at a critical time in the mediation process, when it can reduce defensiveness and increase creativity. Once in the joint session, stakeholders communicate with each other with less mediator interference.

Piece Rate Pay Design

Summary of over two decades or research on piece rate pay.

Human Resource Management and Dairy Employee Organizational Commitment
PennState Special Research Report, August 2006, Richard E. Stup

Factors associated with dairy employee committment to the dairy operation are examined, based on survey carried out among dairy owners and employees in PA, NY, MD, OH, and VT.

Conflict and Disagreement at the Farm

This report looks at the types of situations that led to conflict between farm employees, as well as between employees and their farm supervisors, and how these disagreements were handled after they became apparent.

Dairy USA 2009 Wage Survey

This year dairy farmers provided an extensive list of worries and concerns besides sharing what the pay milkers.

Dairy USA 2006 Wage Survey

Almost 200 daires throughout the USA participated in the third informal USA wage survey. This year we continued to look at the employment of female and foreign born milkers, as well as wages in relation to years of employment at the dairy.

Dairy USA 2003 Wage Survey

Over a hundred daires throughout the USA participated in the second informal USA wage survey. This year we focused on milkers while in the former survey we looked at wages of different positions on the dairy farm.

Dairy USA 2000 Wage Survey

Seventy-six dairies, mostly from the Midwestern and Western states, participated in our first informal USA wage survey, providing us 115 responses.

Colorado Feedlot Wage Survey 2009

In this first survey, twenty Colorado respondents and two others answered questions related to wages and other working conditions for their cowboys. We hope to compare trends over the years and involve more states in the future.

Job-Sample Test as a Predictor of on-the-job Performance of Vineyard Pruners (1987, 56 pp.)

Master's thesis on the reliability and validity of a vineyard pruning job sample test as a criterion-oriented validation strategy.

18 February 2014

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Agricultural Labor Management

E-mail: gebillikopf@ucdavis.edu

Gregorio Billikopf Encina
University of California
(209) 525-6800