As a dairy owner or manager, you probably support legal-immigration status for all of your Hispanic employees.  

One thing is for sure: Hiring immigrant workers demands that you pay close attention to immigration-reform measures in Congress. Two bills, in particular, are worth noting: 

  • Senate Bill 2611 sets up a temporary guest-worker program and provides a path to permanent residency after so many years in this country.
  • House Resolution 4437 provides no path to permanent residency and toughens the penalities for those who are in this county illegally. Employers would be required to verify their workers’ legal status through an electronic system set up by the government. The bill also requires up to 700 miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border.

President Bush, meanwhile, is offering a guest-worker program that would allow illegal aliens and new arrivals to work legally in the U.S., but only temporarily.

Officials of Immigration Control and Enforcement are seeking legislation to get access to Social Security records. And, specific rules for how employers deal with mismatched Social Security numbers are now being proposed. You should know that regardless of how you have dealt with Social Security number-mismatch warning letters before (sent by the Social Security Administration), you as an employer will not be able to ignore these in the future.

Keep an eye on these proposals, because they could negatively impact your ability to access personnel for your dairy.

Bulk of the workforce

Immigrant workers are the bulk of the workforce for our dairies (see table above). It has evolved to that point because: (1) there is a decreased supply of workers from non-immigrant populations and (2) it has been relatively easy in the past to hire immigrants (legal or illegal).   

But things could get tougher — especially if some of the immigration-reform measures now before Congress are passed. With increased competition for workers, you will have to work harder to keep your dairy fully staffed. 

What would happen if your dairy got raided by federal agents the way raids have affected businesses elsewhere? Who would milk and feed the cows?   If you did not have access to such a workforce, where would the workforce come from and what would that do to your cost of production over the long-run? 

Be proactive. Try to stay ahead of the curve. For example, some producers are seeking certain types of visas, such as the H-2A visa for temporary agricultural workers, to allow their employees to be fully legal in the U.S.  In this case, the employee pursues a legal farm job to get this visa, and the employer must then apply for the visa on the employee’s behalf.

Take action. Make sure that all paperwork is in order regarding employees — for example, the I-9 form establishing employees’ work eligibility. This form must be completed for ALL employees and must be completed by you, the employer, not by anyone else. You, the employer, or your human resources representative must check that to the best of your knowledge the employees are legal. Your job is not to be the police and determine if they are legal or not.

If you don’t fill out the I-9, then you are in violation
of the law! 

Let your voice be heard

As an employer in your area, your taxes and enterprise contribute to the economy, and as such, you have a role in pursuing action. Let your voice be heard. Contact your congressional representatives and let them know what reform would benefit the dairy industry directly. 

As an employer, have you been put into a no-win situation and the road is narrowing slowly?

Jorge M. Estrada is president of Leadership Coaching Intl. in Puyallup, Wash.