End Modern Day Servitude; Support the Florida Tomato Workers

In the tomato fields of south Florida, modern-day servitude still thrives.

Slavery, plain and simple

A federal indictment filed on January 17th of this year charged six people for their roles in a violent farm labor operation based in Immokalee, Florida. US Attorney Doug Molloy called the operation “slavery, plain and simple”

Ft. Myers News-Press, “Group accused of keeping, beating, stealing from Immokalee laborers” 1/18/08).  

The American consumer does not want the tomatoes they eat to be picked by workers who are grossly mistreated

Senator Bernie Sanders, January 18, 2008

More, including what YOU can do, after the fold.

Also in Orange: http://www.dailykos.com/story/…

The employers were charged with beating workers who were unwilling or unable to work or who attempted to leave their employ, holding workers in debt, and chaining and locking workers inside u-haul trucks as punishment.

(How about a side order of human rights? Miami Herald, 12/16/07).

“My strong belief is that the more the American people understand the situation here and the attacks on human rights and human dignity that are taking place, the more anger and frustration there will be.  No worker in America should be treated the way tomato pickers in Immokalee are being treated. In my view, when the American people read and hear about slavery taking place today, about horrendously low wages and terrible living conditions, they want to see change.”

Senator Bernie Sanders, January 18, 2008

Let’s hear from the workers, themselves:

With these hands I demand the future that poverty wages have stolen from me.

A little historical perspective helps to show the way to justice here.  

In 1787, the people of Manchester, England, delivered a petition containing more than 10,000 signatures – almost one in every five people in Manchester at the time – to the British House of Commons, demanding that the British government outlaw the brutal Transatlantic Slave Trade.  Hundreds of thousands more British citizens followed suit, carrying so many petitions to Parliament that at one point it threatened to bring the House of Commons to a halt.

The unfurling of the Manchester petition in London marked the launch of an unprecedented popular campaign that – in conjunction with innumerable slave revolts and full-scale rebellions across the Atlantic that shook the very foundation of the barbaric institution – would eventually result in the abolition of the British slave trade in 1807.

It also marked a watershed moment in the birth of the modern human rights movement.  The British abolitionist campaign introduced many of the tools used today in efforts to protect and expand human rights, from the mass petition drive to the consumer boycott, as hundreds of thousands of British consumers refused to purchase sugar produced by slave labor.

Some Historic Perspective: The Early Abolitionists

With YOUR help, this, too, can be a watershed moment in protecting human rights in the United States.  In the tradition of the anti-slavery petitions in Manchester, England, more than 200 years ago, the tomato workers of South Florida working collectively through the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) are launching a national petition drive to demand that Burger King and other food industry leaders work with the CIW to improve the wages and working conditions of the workers who pick their tomatoes.  

To do so we are taking a page out of the organizing strategies of the British abolitionists two centuries ago, calling on Fair Food activists across the country to collect signatures in their communities – in schools, churches, union halls, and community gatherings from Miami to Minneapolis, from New York to Los Angeles.  We plan to turn in the petitions in a creative mass procession at Burger King headquarters in Miami later this spring.

You can be a part of this historic initiative and the next major phase in the Campaign for Fair Food by collecting signatures in your community today!

The petitions will not only call on Burger King and other food industry leaders to join McDonald’s and Yum Brands in addressing human rights abuses in the fields where their tomatoes are picked, but will serve as notice that the petitioners are “prepared to stop patronizing Burger King now, and other food industry leaders in the future, should they fail to do so.”

Petition to End Sweatshops and Slavery in Florida’s Fields!

Last April, the CIW won an agreement with McDonald’s to pay a penny more per pound to workers harvesting tomatoes, which means the workers get 72 cents to 77 cents for every 32-pound bucket of tomatoes they pick, up from 40 cents to 45 cents.  Burger King, the world’s second-largest hamburger chain, however has rejected working with the CIW and is actively fighting the movement.

More here: A Win for the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, April 12, 2007

McDonald’s and other fast-food chains have committed to guaranteeing improved wages and enforcing a code of conduct for conditions in the fields. But Burger King — the second-largest hamburger chain in the world — has so far refused to work with farm workers and heed the call of the faith community to improve wages and working conditions for those who pick their tomatoes

SoJourners Campaign: Tell Burger King: “Farmers Deserve Fair Wages”

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, who signed the petition and fully supports the CIW, told a Capitol Hill rally:

We’re here because when you’re doing the tough work of tomato-picking day after day, week after week — when you’re struggling hard just to make a living, just to survive — then you deserve fair wages and decent treatment so you can support yourself and your loved ones, but that’s not what’s happening.

Instead, our food is harvested by workers who are sometimes held against their will — beaten — forced to work for little pay, or even no pay at all… We saw it in the latest slavery case down in Florida, where tomato pickers were locked in U-Haul trucks and they were beaten when they tried to escape.

For every worker who’s held in outright slavery, there are thousands more who are trying to survive with poverty wages — no right to overtime pay — no sick leave — no freedom to organize into unions — no future — no hope. I’ve been to Immokalee — I’ve seen it with my own eyes.”

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, 3/15/08

What does the Petition do?

The petitions will serve as notice that those who sign are “prepared to stop patronizing Burger King now, and other food industry leaders in the future, should they fail to do so.”  The campaign comes on the 200th anniversary of the US ban against the importation of slaves, and echoes key strategies of the early abolitionist movement that helped hasten the end of slavery in the 19th century.

CIW Petition Campaign

Each of us can help by signing the Petition and spreading the word.  Please sign the Petition.  Here’s part of it. Follow the link and sign the Petition:

“WHEREAS, there is an ongoing human rights crisis in Florida’s fields, including:

poverty wages, rooted in an antiquated piece-rate pay system that hasn’t changed significantly in nearly 30 years;

long hours without overtime pay when work is available, unemployment and transience when it is not;

physical abuse and wage fraud by crewleaders, supervisors, and growers;

damage to body and soul from back-breaking labor, with no employment benefits such as sick days, paid leave, health insurance, or pensions;

retaliation against workers who protest or organize to alleviate these inhuman conditions;

and, most heinously, modern-day slavery, with six successful federal prosecutions of farm labor operations for servitude in Florida over the past decade, and a seventh just initiated, involving well over 1,000 workers and more than a dozen farm employers…”

Sign The Petition

Call on Burger King to do it the American way:

Specifically, I call on Burger King and other food industry leaders to:

Pay a penny more per pound for tomatoes and ensure that the increase is passed on to tomato pickers in the form of increased wages; and

Work with the CIW to establish and enforce a human rights-based code of conduct, including zero tolerance for forced labor, to ensure fair and safe working conditions.

Sign The Petition

This is an important cause.  Remember that a few people can start a large movement, just as Thomas Clarkson,  Granville Sharpe and Olaudah Equiano, among others, did with the movement that ended the slave trade and slavery in British Empire:

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

Margaret Mead

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: Letter from the Birmingham Jail

Sign The Petition


Skip to comment form

    • TomP on March 28, 2008 at 6:42 pm

    Florida.  Please sign the Petition.

    • brobin on March 28, 2008 at 7:08 pm

    It was Cesar Chavez and his United Farm Workers that originally coined the phrase “Si se puede” or “Yes we can do it.” They started with a few people and created a movement that can be re-kindled today with the help of some caring Americans.

  1. And grow your own tomatoes!

  2. The Battle Fields

  3. Good job, Tom.

Comments have been disabled.