The real advantage that University of California’s ­Gregorio Billikopf sees from labor tracking programs is improvement in productivity by strengthening the quality control and evaluation component.

Billikopf, UC farm labor Cooperative Extension advisor based in Stockton, California, said that he frequently receives calls from agricultural employers seeking information about labor tracking and management programs. Billikopf, an advocate of using incentives or piece rates to reward productivity and performance, believes that such programs have value for employers.

“With a labor tracking program, instead of seeing a worker’s name, the crew foreman or quality control evaluator sees a number,” he said. By eliminating the workers’ names, it forces the QC evaluator to stay honest, avoiding the “halo and horns” effect. Workers who have developed halos (good work ethics) or horns (poor work) are often judged by their reputations and not actual work performance. “For QC evaluators, it’s very hard to get away from the halo and horns effect,” he said.

He suggests that even when barcode numbers are used for employee identification, the numbers can be changed occasionally to prevent QC evaluators from recognizing numbers of the top- or bottom-performing employees. He notes that in a packing house that switched from names to barcode numbers, the switch ended favoritism that had developed by the QC evaluator.

Billikopf also said that labor tracking systems that provide workers with a receipt of the units completed or hours worked would help alleviate worker distrust when transitioning to a new system.