Picturing the Perfect Picker

By Ann Longmore-Etheridge

They say an apple a day keeps the doctor away. But how to keep the illegal migrants at bay was the challenge faced by the Zirkle-Rainier Fruit Company. The company decided it could best cherry- pick its cherry pickers by creating an employee ID that left no doubt the person hired was the same as the person working.

Based in Selah, Washington, Zirkle is one of largest apple and cherry growers and processors in Washington State. Each year, with the harvest, Zirkle hires more than 2,000 pickers and other workers not on its full-time payroll.

Many of these seasonal employees work in a processing center separate from the headquarters location where they met with the staff who hired them says Gary Hudson, Zirkle's director of human resources. This creates the possibility that the person who shows up for the job will not be the person interviewed. In fact, identity switching had happened, and although it was not commonplace, says Hudson, "we saw the potential growing."

Zirkle contacted TransTech Systems, a Wilsonville, Oregon, distributor of ID badging and access control products, to help the company come up with a system that met its needs. Todd Johnson was the TransTech systems account manager who handled the project. He says Zirkle wanted a system that could provide badges for seasonal workers that were visibly different from the badges used by the full-time staff.

The badges would have to be durable because they would be worn outside of clothing in conditions that could vary to extremes of heat, cold, and wetness. The IDs would also be regularly exposed to dirt, pollen, and dust. Additionally, the IDs needed to include an employee photo and a scannable or swipeable bar code to track time and attendance.

Hudson says that equally important was software that would allow headquarters to create a computerized badging database. The database software needed to be user friendly, and the cards needed to be printable on site at the processing facility, as well as at other Zirkle orchards and farms throughout Washington, if the company chose to expand the badging program.

The system would also need to use direct-to-print heavy-duty cards as stock. Johnson suggested as a core printer the Fargo DTC525 dual-sided color printer with a lamination module, which prints on 30-mil PVC cards commonly used for student IDs and store membership cards. The software package he recommended was Episuite Classic by Imageware Systems because of its ease of use and ability to be locally or wide-area networked. The approximate cost of the system and first 1,000 badge imprints would be $11,000. Afterward, there would be recurring costs for printer ribbons and card stock.

Last spring, Zirkle sent four designated system administrators to TransTech for a full day of classroom training on the computers and software, which were then shipped to the company overnight, so "it was all there for them the day they got back," Johnson says. The administrators were taught to input data and upload digital photos into the database, load the printer ribbon, laminate cards, and operate other aspects of the new system.

According to Johnson, there are currently two controlling PCs, each with its own copy of the software--one at Zirkle headquarters and another at the processing facility. There is a badge printer at each location as well.

The badges include two distinct design schemes, one for full-time and one for temporary workers. Each badge includes a photo, along with the person's name and hire date. Seasonal workers' IDs also include an expiration date. The time-tracking bar code is printed onto the back of each card.

Once the company's human resources department has completed an applicant's background check, the seasonal workers can report directly to the processing facility to have their pictures taken and badges created.

While the software has performed as promised, Hudson says that Zirkle encountered a number of other problems with the startup of the program. For example, he says, there were major problems with the wireless connectivity between the database computer, located inside the warehouse, and the badge printer, located in a trailer about 150 feet from the building. There were also problems with the printer's lamination process, says Hudson, who admits being frustrated with "all these bogeymen you don't expect."

Hudson says, moreover, that he was dissatisfied with the technical support offered to help sort out these issues. The problems were eventually solved, he says, by the trial-and-error efforts of Zirkle's IT department. "It tied them up for weeks," he states.

But since those issues were resolved, Hudson says the system has operated as promised. Nearly 2,000 badges have thus far been created. Workers can wear their IDs either on a breakaway lanyard or on their biceps inside a vinyl case with a Velcro strap. Hudson reports that the IDs are standing up well to the cherry processing environment, which includes a prevalence of water.

While Hudson says that the system ultimately "got done what we wanted to get done," Zirkle is going to evaluate whether to expand the system to the company's many orchards and farms, where the working environments might hinder the proper working of wireless connectivity.

(For more information: TransTech Systems; phone: 503/682-3292.)

--By Ann Longmore-Etheridge, associate editor at Security Management



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