Labor: You’ll get what you pay for

Payday! Who doesn’t get a good feeling knowing that a paycheck or direct deposit awaits them in an envelope or in the bank as a result of their work?
I cut paychecks for our dairy’s part-time employees every other Thursday night. And on that Thursday night for about two years, one employee would tell my husband, “Hey Bossman, (her choice of terms, not his), don’t forget to take the time sheets up to the house, tomorrow’s payday!” Enthusiastic but annoying.
Satisfaction. Surveys of factors influencing job satisfaction frequently place level of pay somewhere below No. 1.
Other factors such as responsibility, opportunity for advancement and flexibility might place higher, but wages must be sufficient and competitive.
So what wages are paid in the agriculture industry, and dairy in particular? One source of information is a NASS-USDA survey of farm labor conducted twice each year.
Ohio is grouped with Indiana and Illinois in the “Cornbelt I” category. Surveyed farms report hours worked and average hourly wages for workers whose responsibilities fall in “field,” “livestock,” or “field and livestock” classifications. These wages do not include the cash value of meals or housing benefits that might be provided to the worker.
Statistics. Of the 48,000 workers in the Cornbelt I region in October of 2006, 33,000 expected to be employed for 150 days or more and worked an average of 40.5 hours per week.
In other words, the majority of workers were permanent employees rather than seasonal or transient.
The three states averaged $10.63 per hour for all hired workers. The U.S. average was $9.95.
By category: field – $10.12; livestock – $9.04; field and livestock combined – $9.75 per hour in the Cornbelt I Region.
Stacking up. We were 87 percent higher than the national average for “field,” 46 percent higher for “field and livestock combined,” and 46 percent lower in the “livestock” category.
How can this be interpreted for our dairy workers? It gives us an idea of what national and regional averages are for all types of livestock workers.
It doesn’t tell us what only dairy wages average, it doesn’t tell us differences for full vs. part-time employment, level of expertise, level of responsibility, such as milker vs. crew leader or length of employment.
All of these are factors that should earn employees wage increases.
Early in 2006, UC-Davis conducted a Dairy USA Wage Rate Survey. 186 dairy farms voluntarily provided information on one milker from their operation. Average hourly pay and average years worked were reported for those responses.
Because information from one employee for each farm was selected by the dairymen rather than all of their employees, we can’t say that any one region keeps their employees longer than another.
We can say that each region’s average hourly pay reflects its workers’ average years worked.
Needs. Employees need a good, competitive wage that allows them to support themselves or a family (full time), or pick up some extra cash with part-time employment.
Employers are striking a balance between paying well for a particular job done well and operating a profitable business that can continue to offer good, stable jobs.
These statistics can provide ballpark figures that should be modified by a local area’s competition for jobs, prevailing wage rates and each individual’s qualifications and experience.
Experience. Early in my career I was approached by an older dairy farmer at the Columbiana-Mahoning Dairy Day. He wanted to know what was wrong with today’s boys. He couldn’t find good help, they didn’t want to work and he had been through three in the past few months.
What, I asked, was he paying these boys?
“Well, $3 an hour!” was his reply.
Hmmm, a classic case of getting what he paid for.

About the Author

(Dianne Shoemaker is an OSU Extension dairy specialist located at the extension center in Wooster, Ohio.) More Stories by Dianne Shoemaker

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