Office offers services when farms need migrant workers

The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services has a wealth of information and services for ag employers who hire migrant workers.

The department’s Farm Worker Program Web site serves as a clearinghouse of information for agricultural employers, migrant farm workers and agency service providers. It provides up-to-date information, including employment opportunities, migrant census, statewide migrant farm worker outreach staff contacts and enforcement agency directories.

“We are set up to assist employers in labor and recruiting. Essentially we are an employment services agency. We help employers connect with workers,” said Benito Lucio, state monitor advocate/ombudsman.

Employers who are interested in hiring migrant workers fill out a job order with Lucio’s department, which then contacts outreach staff in states that have large migrant worker populations such as Texas and Florida. The outreach staff help identify potential workers who are willing to travel to Ohio for the seasonal work. Last year his department processed more than 400 job orders, many in the green and nursery industries.

Lucio said he has been trying to educate the ag community more about the employment service his agency offers. In the 1960s and 1970s, many ag businesses used the state’s employment service but didn’t use it as much starting in the late 1980s because there was a constant labor pool available in Ohio. But Lucio said the number of available workers has “dwindled significantly” over the last five to 10 years. This year, however, he anticipates a strong labor pool in Ohio because migrant workers are expected to head north earlier than normal from Florida where cold weather has damaged crops there.

“Another thing we’re seeing is the unemployment rate in areas where farm workers come from is over 10 percent. Some who had settled down now may be in a situation where they lost their job and are looking at getting back into the migrant stream,” Lucio said.

Besides employment services, the Farm Worker Program’s Web site offers a wide variety of information for ag employers and migrant workers, including how to recruit migrant farm workers and compliance requirements, migrant and seasonal farm worker outreach staff, foreign labor certification, immigration, limited English proficiency requirements and important forms in Spanish.

“We have a lot of resources on our Web site. We’re always getting the most up-to-date information on the best practices and are constantly retooling the Web site,” Lucio said. “The great thing about our state is that our outreach staff is the most experienced of those in the country. We can help all types of employers; size doesn’t matter.”For information, call the Ohio Migrant hotline at 800-282-3525.

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