Ohio’s agricultural economy benefits from the thousands of workers who help plant, cultivate, process, and harvest the state’s food. Foundation grantee Advocates for Basic Legal Equality (ABLE) has served agricultural workers in Ohio for 45 years, helping to ensure the workers receive fair payment for their labor and have access to decent and sanitary working and living conditions.
Migrant farmworkers in Ohio reside in 200 agricultural labor camps spread across the state, often in isolated locations. Coupled with language and cultural barriers, workers frequently need help to know their rights.
“Much of our work involves outreach to camps, going door to door, and distributing information to people,” said Mark Heller, senior attorney and acting managing attorney of ABLE’s agricultural and immigrant rights practice group.
Many of the workers speak Spanish – according to the National Agricultural Workers Survey, nearly 80% of agricultural workers are Hispanic, with 61% identifying as Mexican – so to meet the need, ABLE recruits bilingual staff to help address the language barrier.
ABLE represents workers around working conditions, wages, housing, recruitment, and transportation. Most farmworkers are also immigrants, so ABLE advocates for H-2A worker rights and the rights of other domestic and non-H-2A workers under the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Migrant Seasonal Worker Protection Act.
“Once we do intake for services, we determine what legal rights that person may have,” Heller said. “Then, we determine how they might want to proceed. That may vary from talking to their employer and resolving it informally, to bringing it to the U.S. Department of Labor for different types of relief, to litigation, depending on the specific situation.”
Moving forward, ABLE plans to amplify its outreach by incorporating technology. With many farmworkers using cell phones and messaging apps like WhatsApp, ABLE plans to shift from printed materials to social media and digital delivery systems to disseminate information.
“A lot of workers don’t have the time or energy to read paper materials when they’re tired at night,” Heller said. “We’re building up a stable of videos that will be more efficient. Ultimately, we want to help as many workers as possible learn about their rights.”
The Ohio Access to Justice Foundation is the largest funder of civil legal services in Ohio. A gift to the Foundation supports Ohio’s legal aids.