By Sintia Castillo, farmworker and member organizer, Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC)
I am the daughter of single farmworker mother. I began working in the fields when I was 8, selling food with my mom on the weekends and summers. When I turned 13, I started to work with my friends from middle school, picking crops like berries, tobacco, bell peppers, and tomatoes.
In the fields, no one cared that I was young or undocumented because it meant that they could pay me less. They paid me based on how much I picked- $2.50 for a bucket of blueberries sometimes earning me only $15 dollars for 10 hours of work. So I moved to the packing sheds to make the $7.25 minimum wage but conditions there turned out to be even worse, requiring 10 hours of work without breaks. Worse still, it was here that I realized the grower was stealing my wages. When I reported the wage theft to my boss, he retaliated and eventually fired me. I turned to the NC Department of Labor for help, but the first thing they asked for was something I didn’t have to give – a Social Security number.
Last year, I met a representative of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC), through which farmworkers are working in union to change the agricultural industry. I realized that I was stuck in a system that marginalizes hard working and respectful people who have no choice but to work with what we’re given. Justice in the fields is not possible until we can monitor and report abuses ourselves without fear of retaliation. For this reason, FLOC has been fighting to win collective bargaining agreements designed by workers themselves that raise salaries, provide an accessible grievance procedure, and destroy the culture of fear that for centuries has kept farmworkers toiling in silent exploitation.
Farmworkers know well what needs to be changed to make the workplace safe and fair and how those changes can be implemented. By coming together in union, our voices are amplified and growers have to listen. There is strength in numbers, but there is power in union. When we come together, we can see the connections between fields and factories, between packing sheds and call centers, between working people everywhere who all want the chance to enjoy the fruits of our labor.
We invite you to join us this Workers’ Memorial Day, April 28th in Raleigh to remember the farmworkers and others who have died while working for a better life and to support our organizing to build worker power.