By Angelina Klouthis
Migrant seasonal farm workers perform essential work that is critical to our economy. Although many agriculture businesses are owner/family operated, about 29% of the agriculture businesses in Maine hire migrant workers. In order to help connect these community members to career resources, the Maine Department of Labor hired Zia Morningstar as the Coordinator of the Migrant and Seasonal Farmworker Outreach Program. This month I sat down with Zia to share a little about her work over the past year.
AK: Please tell us a little about yourself.
ZM: I am one of the CareerCenter success stories. I was born and raised in the Dominican Republic, but decided to move to the United States as an adult, even though I didn’t know the language. I started out at a temporary agency but soon realized I needed something better for my family’s future. That’s when I sought help from my local CareerCenter and enrolled in their Vocational Rehabilitation Program. Completing the Medical Certification Course with Rhode Island College helped me land a great job at a local hospital. But my ambition didn’t stop there. I had always dreamed of serving in the military, so I enlisted in the army and attended college while serving. Through hard work and dedication, I ultimately obtained my bachelor’s degree in human services. As a proud mother of three adult children and two grandchildren, I retired from the military with a sense of fulfillment in my heart. And now, every day, I have a job that feeds my soul by helping others.
AK: What is the Migrant and Seasonal Farmworkers Outreach Program?
ZM: According to federal law, we are responsible for outreach to Migrant and Seasonal Farmworkers (MSFW). We coordinate services for workers and employers, for example worker orientations during the agricultural season. We provide information in a language people can understand on the various services offered at local CareerCenters, assist workers to register on Maine Joblink, provide job search assistance and referrals, and connect people with community-based supportive services. We also provide a basic overview of farmworker rights as outlined by the [Maine] Department of Labor Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act (MSPA).
AK: Who is a Migrant Seasonal Farmworker?
ZM: A farmworker is anyone who works on the cultivation and tillage of the soil; dairy farming; the production, cultivation, or harvesting of any agricultural or horticultural commodity; raising or farming fish; raising bees, livestock, poultry, or fur-bearing animals. Farmworkers who work on a temporary and/or seasonal basis are considered migrant workers, and so are their dependents.
AK: What is your favorite thing about your job?
ZM: There is nothing quite like the feeling of giving help to someone who is lost and uncertain about their future. For instance, if someone has been laid off from their job and doesn’t know where to turn, we can show them potential opportunities. At the CareerCenter we can help them advance in their careers.
AK: How can someone interested in these services contact you?