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Labor Management Consultant Service (LMC)



 Agricultural employers are faced with the same labor relations problems as other types of employers. In some ways these pressures are even greater because of the seasonality of the industry.

Unfortunately, it is not economical to hire an experienced, full-time person assigned solely to personnel matters. Add to this the language and cultural differences between employers and employees and the job becomes even more insurmountable.

The FELS Labor Management Consultant (LMC) Service fills this gap by providing employers with an economical alternative. The LMC service approaches Ag Labor Relations on three fronts: (1) improving communications; (2) labor law compliance; and (3) personnel relations program (P.R.).

 Benefits of a LMC

The first and most important benefit of the LMC service is reducing cost. It is well documented that the LMC service has saved literally thousands of dollars for LMC clients. For instance, savings have resulted from lowering an employer's workers' compensation rates due to improved safety awareness and training. Other cost savings have resulted from detecting ghost employees, reducing labor commissioner complaints and fines, and improving work procedures. Growers have found it easy to justify the LMC program for these factors alone.

Second, as a result of improved communications it is likely a LMC client will experience labor problems. Differences between people cannot be resolved unless they are able to openly discuss them. Not only is language a barrier, but also being in a subordinated relationship will affect open communications. In labor relations terms, "it is better to know, than to be comfortable."

Additionally, LMC clients are providing their employees with a very economical and tangible fringe benefit. Dollar for dollar, the return on a company's investment in the LMC program can provide clients with an employee motivator which is less costly than other traditional programs such as medical insurance, vacation pay or sick leave benefits.

 The bottom Line:

The reason you are in business is to make a profit. To achieve this objective you need to depend on your employees to do a myriad of jobs which concludes in selling a profitable product. If these employees are not satisfied with their employment, the process of making a profit will be hampered. The LMC service insures that this process is enhanced and that you minimize the potential liabilities along the way.

Give us a call when you are ready to step up your business's efficiency.

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Farmers have ally in handling labor issue

By Jim Morris
CFBF Communications/News Division

A typical day tending to his crops spans 14 hours and many challenges for Benny Jefferson, though the Monterey County farmer says he could not do it without John Barrientos.

Barrientos is a labor management consultant for the Farm Employers Labor Service, an affiliate of the California Farm Bureau. Created 30 years ago, FELS strengthens the working relationship between farmers and field workers and helps farmers comply with labor and employment laws. FELS has seven labor management consultants working with farmers in California and Oregon.

Barrientos works with about 50 farmers covering a large part of the Central Coast area. "With the new rules and regulations that get more complicated every year, you have to have someone like John helping," Jefferson said. "The professionalism, the courtesy, the detail he gets into his work with, he goes the extra mile for us."

The need for a third party to help growers sift through regulations increases along with the number and complexity of laws governing farming. For example, FELS has a summary of the state and federal rules and regulations pertaining to agricultural labor that is 2 1/2-inches thick.

Successful farmers must possess many skills and have a lean work force. Consequently, employees often must perform a variety of tasks. Growers who cannot afford a full-time personnel department can find the help they need from FELS and at a fraction of the cost.

Driving is a big part of the workweek for Homero Mendiola, who has been with FELS since 1980. With clients spread between Bakersfield and Watsonville, Mendiola said it is common for him to put 5,000 miles on his car in a month.

Mendiola finds great satisfaction in helping maintain smooth operations on farms. "A lot of farmers would be in trouble without us," Mendiola said. "We are constantly doing a lot of safety training to keep growers in compliance with pesticides, tractors and forklifts.

"I have the opportunity to help a lot of farmworkers," Mendiola said. "I help them with advice, filling out forms, such as tax, Social Security and others. Getting involved with people and helping them is how I have earned the trust of employees."

Max Curiel has been a labor management consultant for five years. He works with about 35 farmers from Monterey to Mendocino County. His expertise includes bridging the gap between growers and Spanish-speaking workers, training in pesticide applications, forklift operation, irrigation safety and first aid. Curiel is certified by the American Red Cross to provide CPR. His clients grow a variety of crops, including winegrapes, row crops and nursery plants.

"We carry a message to the farmworker and the grower about safety and treatment of workers," Curiel said. "The grower appreciates everything that is done for them because of the language barrier between them and the workers. "Agriculture can be dangerous," Curiel said. "We make sure that everybody not only understands but sees the dangers that exist and some of the things that they take upon themselves that could be dangerous to life and limb. We explain what they should and should not do.

"Sometimes workers think that everything is so easy to do and they pick up bad habits," Curiel said. "We make them see what these bad habits can cause­it opens up their eyes that the body is not going to win against a piece of steel."

Farmworkers, he said, need to keep safety in perspective. "They need to understand they are here for a reasonto work and support a family. If the breadwinner is gone, think of the consequences that not only your family faces, but also the employer and your co-workers."

A Curiel client says FELS safety training has more than paid for itself since they improved safety programs. "I needed help and guidance in getting up to speed on farm standards and how I needed to comply with things," said Peter Figge, vineyard manager of Stonewall Canyon Vineyards in Soledad. Curiel was brought in late in 1997 and has improved the transition. "Max helped me line up everything, including standard safety procedures, any specialty training that comply with county and state regulations," Figge said.

The difference since working with Max is "night and day," Figge said. "I would have been lost without FELS' help. I could have tried to achieve the same thing by reading through all of the compliance issues, but having somebody that knows exactly what's happening, having procedures already in place and can come in and do what needs to be done is the best money I've ever spent on compliances."

Figge said benefits from FELS include ensuring employers stay on top of the latest changes in labor laws. "The pamphlets that are sent out by FELS keep up to speed on what is coming down the pipe, how to comply with that, what's going to come up and what we can do to be proactive."

Figge said employer-employee relations are more positive since Max assisted the farm. "The interaction with employees has been improved," Figge said. "They have somebody else besides myself asking them if there's anything wrong; somebody separate from the company. Workers seem to feel that if they tell me that something's wrong that their job is in jeopardy. They feel better talking directly with a FELS representative."

After more than 15 years of human resources and safety work, Ernie Garcia began work as a labor management consultant this year. Garcia called understanding the culture of farmworkers one of the most important aspects of his work. "The more you understand the culture of the people that you are working with, it goes a long way in understanding how they deal and perceive the company and how they react to situations within the company," he said.

"It's good to have good human relations skills and approach people with honesty and respect," Garcia said. "These values enable you to communicate well with people."

Garcia handles more than two dozen clients. His social services work at Monrovia Nursery "makes it possible for our employees to resolve personal concerns at an early stage," according to Hilda Nunez, human resources manager for the nursery's Visalia office. Nunez added Garcia's work with employees "allows them to focus on their jobs, which improves overall work quality and safety."

As important as the labor management consultants are for compliance and safety, they provide another benefitpeace of mind. The consultants are similar to firefighters in that they are at the ready to help growers if a fire, in this case a labor crisis, arises.

Barrientos described his job as "being the eyes and ears of the clients with their workers and establishing a bridge of communication between the grower and workers." Beneficial to both sides: "The idea of the program is to avoid problems including unions or work stoppages.

"It's a real big thing because obviously you're going to have a third party now that you're going to deal with," Barrientos said. "You no longer have that direct communication with the worker. It's a lot easier to run an operation when you can deal directly with your workers. The minute a third party comes in such as a union, all of a sudden you have a contract that dictates your relationship. For every little issue that comes up, you have to talk to the union first before you can implement it."

The bilingual skills of the labor management consultants help ensure effective communication on the farm. "That's probably one of the biggest issues that we run into," Barrientos said. "We find out that the grower thinks he's communicating with the workers and the workers have no way to communicate to the grower what their concerns are."

"Sometimes the language barrier is hard to break but one way or another we're able to communicate with them," Curiel said.

Labor management consultants are one aspect of the FELS program. FELS also offers a monthly newsletter chronicling the latest laws and court decisions affecting agricultural employers, access to a toll-free FELS employee hotline, legal consultation on labor issues, discounted employment forms and safety materials and savings on seminars, workshops, training videos and promotional items.

FELS can be reached at (800) 753-9073 or on the Internet at Working in such a large geographical area and with such diverse issues has its challenges but Curiel said he has a good feeling at the end of the workday. "It's fun because we're out there in the fields with the workers. They are professionals in their own way and we are in our way. Communication is the big thing."