From Child Laborers to Union Organizers

Today, on World Day Against Child Labor, we want to share the stories and experiences of some of our staff who labored in the fields as children. Child labor is still rampant, with 60% of child labor occurring in agriculture, and in the United States, more children die working in agriculture then in any other industry. No child should be working in the fields to supplement poverty wages their family members receive. As our staff reflect on their experiences, we urge you to join us in fighting against child labor and labor exploitation in the fields.  


David started working in the fields at 9 years old with his 12 siblings and parents. He is now a lead organizer at FLOC.

“No one cared that I was kid. I wanted to be a teacher. We traveled from Texas to Ohio, Michigan and Nebraska every summer. We worked in Texas on the weekends and after school. I knew I was different from my classmates. 

I worked alongside grown men. The conditions were worse than today. We were extremely poor, working in over 100-degree weather, we got paid minimum wage and we were never provided bathroom facilities or drinking water. I felt indifferent to my own suffering but felt bad for my mother and father. We got paid several different ways, but it all went to the family.  

Every experience led me to the Union (FLOC). I was recruited by FLOC at 22 years old when I was working in the fields up in Ohio. They recruited me because I was outspoken. Ever since then I have worked to advance labor rights. No child should be working in the fields.” 


Mario started working with his mom and 9 siblings at 12 years old. He is now our lead development coordinator and oversees our organizing efforts throughout the Southeastern United States.

 “When I think back to when I first started working in the fields as a child, all I can think about is the pain. I was 12 years old, not wanting to get out of bed because my bones hurt, my back hurt, my whole body ached. I weighed maybe 100 pounds, and I was doing such harsh manual labor. No farmers cared that I was so young. The schools didn’t seem to care either. I went from school to school, migrating from Florida, to up the east coast following the harvest throughout the year. We were never in a place long enough; we would work full days during school time. In South Carolina we would pick tomatoes all day, then go to the packinghouse afterwards and pack tomatoes until midnight, sometimes 1am. Nobody asked how old I was, or my siblings. We were paid cash, all under the table. I graduated high school through a migrant school program.   

There is one moment that really sticks out to me in my childhood, when I received my first paycheck. It was $75 for a full week of work. After being in so much pain, and working fulltime it was only $75. And that of course went to my mom to help provide for me and my siblings.  

I had a lot of anger built up from childhood, from the injustices. I knew since I was young, I would break the cycle of being a migrant farmworker, that I would be a role model for my younger siblings. In the labor camps, I was always the one people went to for help. I would translate official paperwork or help people send letters back home. I liked helping people, and I wanted to spend my life doing so. My work at CMWJ and FLOC is deeply personal. I know the pain and struggles of our members in the fields. There is a certain satisfaction I get, it’s almost healing, when I can help one of my brothers or sisters working in agriculture. “


Ana grew up working in the fields in Guatemala at age 8 with her 9 siblings, she is now a community organizer at CMWJ.  

“I was 8 years old when I started working with my dad, planting and harvesting corn and coffee. Nobody cared that I was child, only that I did the work. Growing up, I only studied until the third grade, and even then, I was only going to school 6 months out of the yearMy dad would take me out of school and then take me to farms to work and to pick coffee beans. I didn’t continue studying because I had to continue working, my wages went towards the family’s needs, like for food or clothes.

My dream growing up was to help people, as I dreamed someone would help me and my family. Eventually I came to the United States and started working in the fields North Carolina. When I learned about FLOC, I was interested right away in getting involved to help migrant farmworkersI started volunteering, and then was trained to become a community organizer. I work every day to support my community.”  

No child should be forced to work in the fields. 

The experiences David, Mario and Ana shared above are not relics of the past. Children are still working in dangerous conditions throughout the United States. To truly address the problem of child labor in agriculture, effective reporting mechanisms must be established in the fields, and adult workers must receive wages that allow them to support their families and send their children to school rather than work. Eradicating child labor and exploitation requires a worker centered approach that improves living conditions and wages.   

On World Day Against Child Labor join us in the fight to eradicate child labor and exploitation of workers in agriculture.