Brand division: WLSB brand recording makes advances despite challenges
Casper – A May 18 Wyoming Livestock Board (WLSB) meeting included substantial discussion about the brand division, with topics ranging from brand renewal and computerization to brand inspector salaries.
“It’s been a busy month,” said Lee Romsa, brand commissioner, during the meeting. “We’ve had district meetings throughout the state, and we’ve also handed out the tablet computers to our inspectors for our new system.”
WLSB launched its computerization effort several years ago in an effort to increase the usability of brand records and to enable faster traceability of livestock movement in the event of a disease outbreak. With software development as an ongoing process, the Brand Recording Division of WLSB is in beta testing for the equipment.
“We started computer training this week,” said Romsa. “Frankly, it’s a good step forward, but it won’t be a quick or easy process.”
With challenges in the technology gap and some software and training concerns, Romsa notes that it may take significant time before brand inspectors around the state are fully comfortable with the system.
Despite the hurdles, he added, “Reactions from inspectors have been mostly positive. While some of our inspectors really don’t want to go in this direction, they are willing to give it a try. It’s going to take a lot of work, and it’s going to be a process.”
Brand Inspection Supervisors from the state commented that changing to a new system is a challenge.
“Online training is really difficult for people who are already intimidated by a computer,” said Gary Zakotnik, a supervisor from Eden. “The inspectors in our division are really trying to make this thing work, but they’re running into some roadblocks.”
At the same time, some portions of the program are still under development, and as training progresses, new developments are being made to improve the process.
“We just started on May 16 with training, and there are parts of the program that aren’t quite finished,” Romsa said. “It’s a very frustrating process, and it’s a very complex system.”
He added, “This is a difficult task, but our inspectors are willing to try, and they’re willing to learn. We appreciate that, and we don’t take it lightly. It’s been really important.”
During the 2016 Budget Session of the Legislature, the Wyoming budget included in it raises for brand inspectors.
“We’ve talked about a two-phase system with the raises,” said Steve True, WSLB director.
At the same time, questions about implications of federal rules.
“In 2014, the DOL was tasked by the president to revise their wage and hour overtime rules and the exemption clauses within that,” True said. “That rule went to the Office of Budget Management in March this year with substantial changes.”
The final rule was released on March 17 in its final form.
Wyoming A&I noted that WLSB is likely to become non-exempt from overtime and compensatory time rules, and True mentioned that there was also conversation about transitioning from a salary program to an hourly wage program to facilitate the rule change.
Exempt status is based off of several parameters. The first is a salary basis test. The old test said salaries of $23,660 and above can be classified as exempt if certain duties and statuses are met.
“Typically each exemption has one to four items that we must meet to be exempt,” True said. “The salary basis had been increased to $47,456 per year, and there will be adjustments every three years.”
If salaries do not exceed that amount, the rule states that an overtime or compensatory time program must be utilized.
True noted that brand inspectors would not qualify for an exemption as a result.
Additionally, he did not accept the recommendation that brand inspectors be paid on an hourly basis.
“Among other things, it wouldn’t be fair for our inspectors to fight for a raise in the legislature and then not be able to give it to them because we changed to hourly,” he said. “It also maintains stability within the program.”
True also noted that a more substantive, more refined daily time card system must be implemented, however, to accurately account for time spent.
Increased time accountability may be beneficial in some respects, though, True said.
“It can help us figure out how effective we are and if there are underserved areas in the state,” he commented.
“We feel there is a period of time necessary to track a cost-analysis of the overtime program. We feel salary may not be as expensive as overtime on an hourly basis,” True said. “We can talk about how a compensatory time program would work to the advantage of the inspectors.”
He added, “We would accept, if necessary, a review period of one-year to look at cost and efficiencies. We feel this is a big enough issue that all stakeholders deserve a voice.”
Possible consequences include loss of valuable personnel, necessity for new wage projections in difficult budget times and the need for additional part-time inspectors in some regions.
WLSB is also working to ensure that brand inspectors maintain their current healthcare benefits.
“We need time to study this to make an informed decision before the program goes forward,” True said.
The rule requires compliance by Dec. 1, 2017. It is still subject to Congressional review, True added, and bills in both houses have been introduced to nullify the bill.
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.