Notes from Susan: Essential But Unprotected: US Farmworkers

Notes from Susan: Essential But Unprotected: US Farmworkers


Notes from Susan: Essential But Unprotected: US Farmworkers

By Susan MacLaury

Shine Global is hosting a series of most of its documentaries throughout 2020 in celebration of our 15th anniversary. On June 12th – World Day Against Child Labor – we screened The Harvest (La Cosecha) and I had the privilege of moderating its Q and A. The panelists included US Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard, who authored the CARE Act (Children’s Act for Responsible Employment and Farm Safety) and was a co-sponsor of the recent HEROES Act, which provides protections to millions of Americans dealing with COVID-19. She was joined by Norma Flores López, the Chief Programs Officer at Justice for Migrant Women and Chair of the Child Labor Coalition’s Domestic Issues Committee. The third panelist was Zulema Lopez, one of the three young subjects of The Harvest, then 12 and now 23 and a recent college graduate.

We spoke mostly about how little has changed for migrant farmworkers in the US. Their lives are arduous, traveling many months a year following crops to harvest, often traveling thousands of miles each season. Their children routinely miss weeks of school, making it very difficult for them to keep up with classmates. Their housing is substandard, wages very low, and though now deemed “essential workers,” farmworkers still lack many of the basic rights afforded workers in other lines of labor like the right to overtime, or to collective bargaining.

The Families First Coronavirus Relief Act (FFCRA) passed earlier this spring provides protections and salaries for many workers through from April 1 -December 31 of this year. It requires employers with under 500 employees to give workers up to 2 weeks of fully or partially paid sick leave for COVID-19 reasons. It makes full-time employees who’ve been employed for at least 30 days and must quarantine because of symptoms or possible exposure to the virus, eligible for 80 hours of paid sick leave at their regular wage. They’re also able to get 2/3 of their salary if they can’t work because they need to take care of a sick relative or a minor.

The problem is that migrant workers may not work as long as 30 days for an employer. When they don’t qualify, they are left to bear the full brunt of the loss of head start and childcare programs and public school closures. Thus, while the FFCRA is an important first step in the protection of “essential” farm workers, it’s not a 100% guarantee that their rights and needs will be protected. Much more can and must be done.

As I watched The Harvest again, I was struck by how hard the lives of migrant farmworker families are. As filmmakers we come in, document these issues with the help of charismatic and courageous subjects. Then we go on to our next project while they continue to live their lives. And their lives are very, very hard.

I asked all our panelists what average American’s can do to help – and I’ll leave you with their inspiring words:

The Harvest (La Cosecha) + Live Panel Discussion June 12th, World Day Against Child Labor

The Harvest (La Cosecha) + Live Panel Discussion June 12th, World Day Against Child Labor


Free Virtual Screening of The Harvest (La Cosecha) + Live Panel Discussion June 12th 8pmET/5pmPT, World Day Against Child Labor





Live Panel discussion with Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40), Former Child Farmworker Featured in the Film Zulema Lopez, Former Child Farmworker Norma Flores López who is Chief Programs Officer at Justice for Migrant Women, and Moderated by Executive Producer and Co-Founder of Shine Global Susan MacLaury

Donations will be shared with the Farmworkers’ COVID-19 Pandemic Relief Fund

LIVE Panel Discussion
Friday, June 12th


How to Watch

1. Click here to go the screening page on Eventive

2. If your screen says “Watch Now,” simply click to begin  viewing. If your screen says “Unlock,” enter your email and password (you will need to create an account with Eventive if you don’t have one already) and the page will take you to the “Watch Now” screen.

3. You have until June 12th at 8pmET to begin watching the film after unlocking.  Once you begin watching, you have 48 hours to complete the film.  You can watch at anytime before the panel discussion – the film is 80 minutes long.

4.  On Friday, June 12th at 8pmET/5pmPT the same page will host the live Panel Discussion.  You must be signed into your account to view.  You can type questions and comments into the chat box.

5. If you’d like to make it a Movie Night, follow this timeline to join in the fun simultaneously with the filmmakers and friends across the country:

Friday, June 12th
6:30pm EDT (NY) / 3:30pm PDT (CA)
Log in to Eventive to watch The Harvest (La Cosecha) from the comfort of your home. The film is 80 minutes long.

7:50pm EDT (NY) / 4:50pm PDT (CA)
10 minute break – get your questions ready

8:00pm EDT (NY) / 5pm PDT (CA)
Participate in our live Q&A and panel discussion

If you have any questions or concerns, feel free to reach out to for assistance and you can view the FAQ from Eventive


In observance of World Day Against Child Labor, Shine Global is hosting a free virtual screening of their 2011 documentary about child labor in the US THE HARVEST (LA COSECHA).  The screening will be followed by a panel discussion with experts and participants in the film – including Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard – who will discuss the current situation of child labor in the US, what is being done to support these children, and what still needs to be done to ensure their safety and futures.

Directed by award-winning photographer and filmmaker U Roberto Romano, THE HARVEST (LA COSECHA) tells the stories of three adolescents who travel with their families across thousands of miles to pick crops in southern Texas, northern Michigan, and northern Florida during the harvest season.  Actor Eva Longoria served as executive producer.

“It’s my sincere hope that this documentary will withstand the test of time to remind future generations that child labor, no matter what industry, is absolutely deplorable and wrong,” said Eva Longoria upon the release of the film in 2011.

That is why Shine Global, the non-profit media company dedicated to giving voice to children and families, has organized this screening and panel discussion on World Day Against Child Labor.  According to the UN, there are an estimated 152 million children in child labor around the world, 72 million of which are in hazardous work. This is an issue in the United States as well, with an estimated 500,000 children working in the fields to harvest the food we all eat. With COVID-19, these children are now at even greater risk and facing even more difficult circumstances.

The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 excluded agriculture allowing children 12-years-old and even younger to pick produce.  Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard, who will be speaking on the panel, has authored the CARE Act to change this by increasing the minimum age of child workers to 14-years-old and to end the separate and unequal status farmworker children now endure.  (read more on the CARE Act here).

The panel will also feature Zulema Lopez, who was featured at age 12 in the film, and Norma Flores López who is also a former child farmworker and is now a well-known farmworker rights activist. The discussion will cover issues of child labor presented in the film and efforts in the US to mitigate this practice.

Any donations raised will be shared with the Farmworkers’ COVID-19 Pandemic Relief Fund set up by Justice for Migrant Women and Hispanics in Philanthropy to help keep farmworker families safe from COVID-19 as they perform “essential” work to feed us.


Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40)

In 1992, Lucille Roybal-Allard became the first Mexican-American woman elected to Congress. Last year, she became the first Latina to serve as one of the 12 “cardinals,” or chairs, of a House Appropriations Subcommittee. Congresswoman Roybal-Allard is author of The Children’s Act for Responsible Employment (CARE) to address abusive and exploitative child labor practices in agriculture. She is a prominent advocate for children and families as co-chair of the Maternity Care Caucus, vice chair of the Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee, and vice chair of the Task Force on Aging and Families. She is also an original co-author of The Dream Act, which would allow certain U.S.-raised immigrant youth to earn lawful permanent residence and eventual American citizenship. In 2019, she introduced the newest version of this bill: HR 6, The Dream and Promise Act.


Zulema Lopez, Child Rights Activist, Featured in the film The Harvest (La Cosecha)

Zulema Lopez is a Michigan State university Graduate with a bachelor’s degree in Human Capital and Society from the Human Resources And Labor Relations college at MSU. Throughout her 23 years she has been able to overcome the harsh obstacles she faced as a migrant farm worker and has used her platform to advocate for child labor laws. Zulema participated in the documentary The Harvest (La Cosecha) at age 12, in which her life as a child migrant worker was documented to show the underlying issues of the child labor in the US. In  2018 she was a guest panelist at the 107th Session of the International Labour Conference in Geneva, Switzerland where she spoke on the issues of child labor in the US. Most recently in 2019, Zulema returned to her home state of Texas to attend two conferences where she shared her story to help motivate students with a similar background. Zulema continues to be a child labor activist in hopes that there will be change to come.


Norma Flores López, Chief Programs Officer at Justice for Migrant Women

Norma Flores López grew up as a child of a migrant farmworker family from South Texas. She began working in the fields at the age of 12, where she continued working until she graduated from high school. She has long been an active advocate for migrant farmworker children’s rights and continues to raise awareness on issues affecting the farmworker community. Norma serves on the Board of Directors for the National Consumers League, is the chair of the Child Labor Coalition’s Domestic Issues Committee, and the representative for the United States on the Board of Directors for Global March Against Child Labour. Prior to joining Justice for Migrant Women, Norma was the Governance and Development/Collaboration Manager at East Coast Migrant Head Start Project, a co-founder of The Foundation for Farmworkers, served on the Board of Directors for the National Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Association, and was director of the Children in the Fields Campaign at the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs.


Susan MacLaury – Co-Founder and Executive Director of Shine Global – Moderator

Susan executive produced The Harvest (La Cosecha) as well as the Emmy Award®-winning, Academy Award®-nominated documentary War/Dance, the Academy Award® Winner Inocente, 1 Way Up in 3D, The Eagle Huntress, and Liyana. She is also the producer of The Wrong Light and Virtually Free. Susan is in charge of the educational outreach and social advocacy efforts for all of Shine Global’s films. She is dually degreed in social work administration and health education and was associate professor of health education at Kean University from 1994 through 2013.






Released in 2011, THE HARVEST (LA COSECHA) is a production of Shine Global, Inc. in association with Globalvision, Inc., Romano Film and Photography, Inc., UnbeliEVAble Productions, EPIX and Planet Green.  Albie Hecht and Susan MacLaury: executive producers for Shine Global, Inc. Eva Longoria: executive producer for UnBeliEVAble Productions, Rory O’Connor: executive producer for Globalvision, Inc. and producer. Alonzo Cantu and Raul Padilla, Executive Producers


U. Roberto Romano, Director, Producer, Director of Photography
Roberto Romano was an award winning photographer, filmmaker, and human rights educator. He worked on human rights projects with such organizations as GoodWeave, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, The International Labor Organization, Stop the Traffik, The Hunger Project, and The Council on Foreign Relations, among others. He was the Director, Producer, and Director of Photography of The Harvest (La Cosecha). His other film credits include: Dark Side of Chocolate (Director of Photography) about slavery in the West Africa cocoa trade; Stolen Childhoods (Producer, Director, and Director of Photography) about child labor. His powerful photography was also published in many prestigious newspapers and magazines and featured in many galleries and shows.


Shine Global is a 501(c)(3) non-profit media company with the mission to give voice to children and their families by telling stories of their resilience to raise awareness, promote action, and inspire change.  Since founding in 2005, we’ve produced and supported over 15 films about children and families and run educational and engagement campaigns that have a real world impact. Our films include the Oscar-winning short docInocenteand the Oscar-nominated War/Dancethe PBS documentaryTre Maison Dasan, and the Webby-nominated digital series The Election Effect.



Justice For Migrant Women protects and advances migrant women’s rights through education, public awareness and advocacy. Justice for Migrant Women aims to ensure that all migrant women are guaranteed human and civil rights, including the freedom of mobility, the ability to live and work with dignity, and the right to be free of threats of violence against them and their families, whether they are migrating across borders, around regions or within states. 



The Latinx House is a gathering place for people who appreciate and support the Latinx community and who celebrate Latinx excellence in film and entertainment. We are also a space to discuss pressing societal issues and the content creation related to these stories. We will provide engagement, activation and community building opportunities.

Child Labor in the Fields: Tobacco Picking

By Susan MacLaury

Just a month ago, we posted pictures of Victor, Zulema and Perla, the three American teen migrant farm workers we had profiled in our 2011 film, The Harvest (La Cosecha). We were reintroduced at Shine Global’s 10th anniversary party and over the weekend we had a chance to learn in depth how they were since making this film, the effects it had had on them, and where they currently were in their lives.

It was great hearing how Zulema was a college freshman, Perla was planning to go to graduate school, and Victor was achieving his dream of becoming a car mechanic. Still, we knew that all had family members, some of them younger siblings, a few of the hundreds of thousands still working in the fields with minimal protections.

That point was brought home to me today when a friend sent me this clip about a current Human Rights Watch campaign to educate the public about the poisonous effects of picking tobacco on underage workers. Memories surfaced about our research into this subject, interviews with prospective film subjects, production of The Harvest (La Cosecha), and our screenings on Capitol Hill in 2011 to try to convince lawmakers to vote in the CARE Act (Children’s Act for Responsible Employment) sponsored by Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard. Both she and then Secretary of the US Department of Labor, Hilda Solis, fought hard, but in vain, for legislative reform for young farm workers.

Human Rights Watch has commissioned multiple investigative studies on the wellbeing of young farmworkers over the last 15 years with some successes. In 2014, some of the major US tobacco growers banned children under 16 from working in the tobacco fields, but excluded older teens from their policies, teens who are still vulnerable to the dangerous effects of tobacco picking. Shine Global applauds them for their continued concern. We believe that the powerful imagery they employ as documentarians will make a difference in the lives of these children and urge you to watch and act.

Shine Global Receives National Endowment for the Arts Grant to support Film Engagement Across the US

7.31.12 childrens art workshop

Youth participate in an arts workshop in NYC for Shine’s film Inocente. The grant from the NEA will support more workshops like these across the country.

Through its grant-making to thousands of nonprofits each year, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) promotes opportunities for people in communities across America to experience the arts and exercise their creativity.

In the second major grant announcement of fiscal year 2015, the NEA will make a $50,000 award to support Shine Global’s multi-faceted IGNITE program to extend the reach of Shine’s acclaimed documentaries and harness their power as a dynamic force for positive change across the US, especially in communities with limited access to traditional film distribution outlets.

NEA Chairman Jane Chu said, “The NEA is committed to advancing learning, fueling creativity, and celebrating the arts in cities and towns across the United States. Funding these new projects like the one from Shine Global represents an investment in both local communities and our nation’s creative vitality.”

“We deeply believe in the power of film to transform children’s lives” said Shine’s co-founder and executive director Susan MacLaury. “Shine has been working since our founding 10 years ago to ensure that our films have an impact.  This grant from the NEA will support us expanding these efforts and inspiring even more audiences through the power of film.”

The main elements of Shine’s IGNITE outreach and engagement program include: 1) Community film screenings and complementary workshops designed with partner organizations for youth; 2) Free, standards-based curricula designed to enable teachers to integrate film in the classroom while building their students’ critical thinking skills; and 3) A social action template that empowers viewers to advocate for change.

Shine Global aims to schedule more screenings of our films, including the Academy Award®-winning Inocente, The Harvest (La Cosecha), and 1 Way Up, beginning in September 2015.  Any communities or organizations interested in learning more about how they can bring Shine’s films to their community can contact

The $50,000 grant from NEA must be matched by Shine from other fundraising sources.  Please consider supporting our work by making a tax-deductible contribution today.

Notes From Susan: 76 years is long enough

12-year old American migrant worker cuts onions instead of going to school. (Photo Credit: U. Roberto Romano for The Harvest)

12-year old American migrant worker Zulema cuts onions instead of going to school. (Photo Credit: U. Roberto Romano for The Harvest)

By Susan MacLaury
Co-Founder & Executive Director, Shine Global

The September 7th front page of the New York Times features an article titled: “Just 13, and Working Risky 12-Hour Shifts in the Tobacco Fields.” It profiles a young teen named Saray Alvarez who’s spent the last few months working 12 hour shifts in North Carolina tobacco fields. She and other workers poke holes in black garbage bags for their arms and wear these all day in stultifying heat and humidity to protect themselves from nicotine poisoning. As it is, many workers become sickened, experiencing dizziness, nausea, vomiting and irregular heartbeats. These symptoms are undoubtedly exacerbated by the fact that Saray and others can get water only once an hour at most, when her crew traverses a broad field to the side where there are water containers.

Such appalling circumstances are not uncommon and their effects can be lethal as was true for 17-year old Maria Jimenez, two months pregnant, who died one day in August 2008 after picking grapes in the San Joaquin Valley in triple digit temperatures with no water. Despite the efforts of activists such as US Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard, who has tried repeatedly to get the Children’s Act for Responsible Employment out of committee to be voted on by the House of Representatives, and former US Secretary of Labor, Hilda Solis, whose efforts to protect children working in the fields were nullified by the Obama administration in 2012, child farm workers are still unprotected.

It was personally terribly distressing to be reminded how little progress we’ve made in protecting our youngest who risk their health, academics, and futures to feed America. As executive director of Shine Global, I also joined activist Eva Longoria in 2010 to executive produce our documentary, The Harvest (La Cosecha), directed by U. Roberto Romano, that followed three American teen migrant farm workers through the 2009 harvest as they traveled across the US picking crops. It was Shine’s hope that through educational outreach and use of the film by social advocates, this injustice might be addressed.

I am angry – very angry – that hundreds of thousands of American children continue to be discounted and unprotected. The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 excludes children working in agriculture from the legal protections afforded to US children in all other spheres. It is perfectly legal in the US today for children as young as 12 to work 12-14 hour days, 7 days a week, under any and all weather conditions. If the farm employs 11 or fewer workers, even these protections are lacking and a child of any age can be forced to work.

I am angry – very angry – that hundreds of thousands of American children – OUR children -are discounted and unprotected. I believe in the power of film to promote change and hopefully films like ours will help make this happen. But it must be now. 76 years to change an inadequate law is long enough. We can and must do much better for our young.