There are about 200 workers at Lemke Cheese, and about eighty of them are Hmong. In 1997 they only had twenty employees. When they hired Hmong people they took a risk of not knowing their culture very well. The toughest thing between the Hmong and Caucasians was the language barrier. There were also some stereotypes against the Hmong people at first.
Chang was hired for the job because they already had some Hmong people working there and they needed to have a person who could speak in at least Hmong and American English. Chang hired more and more Hmong people. A big problem was that the Americans thought that the Hmong were going to take over their jobs. This problem was resolved by Chang playing golf with the Americans and for the American people to understand how nice Chang is and that he wouldn’t take their jobs away.
Why hire Hmong workers? You might think it’s because, well, Chang is Hmong, and he favors Hmong people, so he hires them. If that’s what you thought, you were dead wrong. It’s because they’re good workers A lot of minority groups are good workers. Now, that doesn’t mean that if a Caucasian was a good worker, he wouldn’t hire them. It’s just that a lot of Hmong are good workers. What is a good worker? A good worker is someone who has experience and whose performance is good.
We talked with Chang and Dick Price, the Chief Financial Officer. Dick said that it was important for the company—and cultural diversity—to hire Hmong workers. The Hmong population is also a great resource for employment—in other words, the company wanted Hmong workers.
When Chang Yang came to Lemke, he learned every single job. Once he knew everything, so to speak, he stepped into the role he plays today, official hirer and firer. Even now, he does some work everywhere—from Human Resources Director to a lowly production worker.
The toughest thing between the Hmong and Caucasians was the language barrier. Chang always encourages people to take ESL classes if they don’t speak English. It is still hard to communicate across language barriers.
Many Hmong workers have a childcare problem: in Laos, people wanted as large a family as possible. Many Hmong people still have large amounts of children. Therefore, most of the Hmong women who work at Lemke work second shift, when their husbands aren’t working at other jobs.
Chang Yang said we had to put on hairnets, plastic coats, and for Mr. Wagler a beard net. It’s pretty funny, huh? We had to wear that so we didn’t bring in any germs and get the cheese dirty.
The factory used to make cheese. But they decided to change the company to a packing factory. It packs and labels the cheese. Chang said, “In this factory, we work like family, brothers and sisters.”
In this company they have levels, so if you’re doing great, they move you up to the next level. The levels are production worker, cheese cutter, material handler, team captain, supervisor, and manager. If you’re a manager and still doing good, you get extra money, gifts, and a bonus.
Race doesn’t affect what level a worker is in. It just matters what the worker is good at.
The factory receives 100-pound blocks of cheese. The blocks are cut into pie-slices, blocks, or shreds. The cheese is then packaged, labeled, and sent off to stores to be sold. In every single step, the cheese is checked carefully for germs and bacteria and the room is made as germ-free as possible.
Different cheese-making places send them huge blocks of every kind of cheese. It goes into the big freezer warehouse, basically a giant fridge with lots of shelves piled with chunks of cheese. (Very strong smell.) Then they cut it into the desired shapes (blocks, slices, shredded, etc.) then they wrap them and send them out.
Chang works with all levels and tries to bring the factory together. “Get everybody on the same page,” said his boss. He encourages Hmong workers to take ESL classes, and teaches them more about other cultures. He teaches the non-Hmong about the Hmong, too. Each day the Hmong workers improve their English. The company “acts as a family,” helping each other, getting along nicely.
There is Nothing Like a Cheese Factory
The aroma of many cheeses overwhelms our nostrils
Packages of shredded and block cheeses
emerge from the wide-open mouths of machines…
There is nothing like a cheese factory.