On Wednesday, I received my daily email from the Capital Press, the weekly Ag newspaper for farmers in the Northwest. The headline caught my attention quickly, “Lawsuits challenge piece rate pay.” Piece rate pay has been an integral part of the Ag operation for years, and now the concept is under fire.
Dan Wheat, author of the article, states, “Piece rate refers to paying workers for how much fruit they pick instead of paying them by the hour. It’s been used for decades. Workers say they like it because they make more money. Growers like it because they say it’s the most economical pay method. They say the loss of it would increase their costs.”
Sounds like a win-win to me! So, what’s the problem? Everyone is entitled to an opinion. However, regardless of why a law is written, or how a law is written and interpreted, documentation is crucial for a grower when a problem arises.
Today, you might pay workers piece rate for harvest and pruning tasks. Next season, you might switch to only hourly to avoid risk of lawsuit. Then, the pendulum will steady itself back into the middle. Make sure to Implement a data collection system that captures more, rather than less, and utilize that information to drive worker efficiency and maintain detailed and thorough employee records.
When you have employee productivity data at your fingertips, you can identify problems early, recognize where additional training is needed, and motivate those who may need that extra push. Hourly plus piece wage bonus pay may be the way of the future. Workers will receive a fair wage and those deserving will be rewarded for their hard work. That still doesn’t let the farmer off the hook for improving record-keeping and documenting expectations and guidelines.
Prevent uncertainty and additional stress. Collect the information that could support your case and accommodate a variety of employee pay structures so your farm can stay nimble when the next labor law, or newest interpretation of the law, hits the headlines.