From Empire Farm & Dairy magazine
By JOE LEATHERSICH
ITHACA — A recent study at Cornell University surveyed New York’s Hispanic dairy workers about how valuable they are to the industry.
They survey aims to update a similar study done in 2005 to see how the demographics have changed.
In the newer study, 205 Hispanic dairy workers and 36 dairy farm managers gave on-farm, in-person interviews. They included workers from nine different counties, including six farms in Genesee County; eight farms in Wyoming County; and four farms in Livingston County.
The workers surveyed came from Mexico and Guatemala, with 80 percent of the workers from the former.
The total amount workers on the farms — meaning locals and immigrants — varies from four full-time employees up to 40.
But slightly less than 70 percent of farms said their Hispanic employees make up between 50 and 100 percent of their labor.
Twenty-five percent of farms said 25 to 49 percent of their labor comes from Hispanic workers; 5.6 percent said less than 25 percent of employees are Hispanic workers.
The age of Hispanic employees ranges form 16 to 77 years old, with an average age of 30.
A total of 48.8 percent of the Hispanic workers surveyed were between 22 and 30 years old. The next largest chunk was 21 percent of the workers ranging from 31 to 40; 16.6 percent are 16 to 21 years old; and the remaining 13.6 percent are 41 to 77 years old.
Most of the workers come to America — specifically New York — in their early 20s which is represented by the fact that the average age for 72 of the workers who have been in America between 2 to 5 years is about 26 years old.
Similarly, 63 of the workers who have been working 6 to 10 years have an average age of 32 years old. The trend is that the older someone is, the longer they’ve worked; not that they come to America to work later in life.
There also is not a lot of movement between farms for Hispanic workers; 60 percent say they’ve had one to two employers and 28 percent say they’ve had three to five.
Education wise, more than 50 percent reported they have between 9 and 12 years of education and another 31 percent have 6 to 8 years. Slightly more than 12 percent have 0 to 5 years of education and less than 5 percent have over 13 years.
And despite most of the workers having many years of education, there were multiple reasons why they came to America to work.
When asked their reasons for coming to the farm they work at — workers could give multiple answers — 34 percent said it was to follow friends and family while 21 percent said they could earn a higher wage.
Nearly 60 percent of Hispanic workers said “other” when asked their reason for working on that farm. Of those respondents, 8 percent said they took the work to help their family escape poverty.
As for the work itself, more than half of employers reported that milking occurs in 12-hour shifts, which the survey states comes at the request of the workers to get more hours. Nearly 90 percent of workers work six days a week, as well.
On average, workers see the amount of hours they request, which is about 67 hours per week. Only 1 percent of workers reported working less than 40 hours per week.
Workers on average received an hourly wage of $10.30, with range of $8.50 to 18.00.
Workers and employers alike were asked about benefits offered and both gave consistent answers. About 80 percent of employers cover housing costs for their employees and roughly 78 percent said they pay utilities.
About half of employers pay for cable television, internet and transportation for workers.
Another common benefit offered by employers is a bonus/incentive program — which more than 80 percent offer — and garden space, which 72 percent offer.
Despite the long hours, more than 50 percent of those questioned reported enjoying the job.
Slightly less than half of all employees said their job was not difficult and everything was good with the work. Also about half of the workers said there wasn’t anything their boss to could to improve the job and that everything was good.
Similarly, 53 percent said they were happy with their boss and used phrases such as “He’s friendly,” “treats us well,” “has a good heart,” according to the report.
More than 60 percent have plans to return to their home country.
The survey concluded by highlighting the importance of Hispanic workers to farms and specifically dairy farms.
According to the survey, U.S. dairy farmers cannot fill these jobs, which often consist of hard manual labor, with local workers and that Hispanic workers are willing and able to do the job.
It continued to say how farmers are concerned with losing their Hispanic workers because they feel it would be “difficult if not impossible,” the survey states, to complete the duties.
Because of this, U.S. dairy farmers are actively seeking immigration reform to allow current undocumented immigrants to achieve legal citizenship and to allow for a year-round guest worker program, the survey stated.
The report can be found online through Cornell University’s Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management website.