A state custom operators group, formed just over a year ago, is busy petitioning its state government for the same employee overtime exemption that growers have.

“Most neighboring states have exemptions for custom operators concerning ag-work and sub-agriculture work overtime. Wisconsin doesn't,” says Dick Kraus, Elkhart Lake custom harvester and president of Wisconsin Custom Operators, Inc.

The new group has decided to work toward educating fellow custom operators, growers, government officials and the general public on issues such as overtime pay, road regulations, insurance and workers' compensation issues, Kraus adds.

He hopes the overtime exemption omission is just a matter of clarification with state department of labor officials.

“We are hoping for a level playing field,” Kraus says. “The overtime exemption will actually provide more work hours and income for our seasonal and temporary work force. The way the regulation is now worded, ag-related employers are required to incur higher costs than ‘farmers’ or ‘growers’ for performing the same work by paying overtime wages. Or the alternative is to hire another second shift of employees.”

The purpose of the group is to bring “strength in numbers” to custom harvesters from around the state. “We want to promote quality and professionalism in the custom operating profession,” he says.

During meetings, harvesters can network; explore contracting, labor management and collection issues; and examine business management methods through discussion and special speakers. Kraus hopes the group can also help educate state government entities on transportation and regulatory issues.

Committees have been formed to deal with labor and transportation concerns, member recruitment, laws, contracting and equipment innovations, among other topics.

Wisconsin custom operators can join the group for $100/year for one member and $25 for each additional member of the same family or business. For more on the organization, visit www.wiscustomoperators.org or call 608-846-1825.