Fight for fair food

January 13, 2011

By Jeff Hake
In the news over the past few years, you may have heard phrases like “Boot the Bell” and “One Penny More” amongst stories of abused farmworkers and debt slavery on American soil. These phrases and the public knowledge of farmworkers rights’ abuses are the responsibility of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) and the Student Farmworker Alliance (SFA). On December 9th, these groups paid a visit to Tufts’ Fletcher School

Meghan Cohorst of SFA and Cruz Salucio of CIW visited the Boston are, speaking at dozens of events for over a week. The Friedman School’s Slow Food Tufts and the Fletcher School’s Human Rights Project, Migration Club, and PRAXIS journal worked jointly to coordinate and sponsor an event on the Medford/Somerville campus.

The Crowe Room was quickly filled with over 20 undergraduate and graduate Tufts students, who listened eagerly to the discussion lead by Meghan and Cruz. Their discourse made for a fascinating scene, as Meghan largely spent her effort translating for the audience as Cruz, a former teacher and farmer who emigrated from Guatemala, spoke comfortably in Spanish. They began by describing who they were and why they are campaigning around the country. The CIW and SFA are working jointly to speak up for farmworkers in Immokalee and elsewhere in Florida as well as around the United States.  These farmworkers are abused by their employers, most often by not being fairly compensated for their labor, but also physically and psychologically. Some workers are held in a form of slavery wherein they receive below minimum wage pay and are hit with exorbitant “fees” for basic employer services.  They are not allowed to leave their work for any reason including family emergencies, health risks, or financial issues, and are coerced to stay through violence. In these situations, their status as undocumented workers leaves them with no legal recourse and little hope of escaping the oppressive cycle of debt slavery.

After their introduction, Meghan and Cruz showed a film, a news report made several years ago that documented their efforts to better the lives of farmworkers. The workers in Immokalee, Florida typically harvest tomatoes and citrus fruit. They are paid by the bucketful; therefore, the faster the harvest, the higher the pay check. However, even the fastest worker is rarely able to make anything close to a living wage. The pay received per bucket is simply too low. The film captured CIW’s effort to increase the pay of these workers by going straight to the top. Much of the tomatoes harvested in Immokalee goes to fast food restaurant chains, so the CIW took their protest to YUM! brands, namely, Taco Bell. Through their “Boot the Bell” campaign, the CIW worked for years through letter-writing, boycotts, marches, and hunger strikes to increase worker pay by one more penny per bucket. After nearly a decade of effort, the film captured the triumph of the CIW to secure the pay raise. Today  9 major corporations including McDonald’s, Burger King, and Subway have signed on to the one more penny per pound practice.

After the film, Cruz and Meghan took questions from the event attendees, who conversed with the presenters in both English and Spanish. Meghan and Cruz discussed their upcoming campaign to take on other players in the food system supply chain: grocery store chains.  They will also continue to pull back the veil that hides the abuse and debt slavery of farmworkers in the United States. Join the struggle!

Thank you to Meghan Cohorst and Cruz Salucio, as well as Beth Tuckey, Elise Garvey, Elizabeth Burgess, Rebecca Nemec, Signe Porteshawver, Isabel Leon, Sarah Strong, Ronit Ridberg, Slow Food Tufts, PRAXIS, the Migration Club, the Human Rights Project, the Fletcher School, the Friedman School, the Harvest Co-op, and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and the Student Farmworker Alliance for making this fantastic event possible.

Upcoming CIW/SFA event:

On February 27th, 2011, farmworkers and allies from across the Northeast will gather in Boston for a major action to call on Stop & Shop – and its parent company Ahold USA – to work with the CIW. Organizers will be in Boston from mid-January through February in preparation for the event. If you are interested in organizing a presentation in your class, congregation or organization, please contact Meghan Cohorst at meghan@sfalliance.org or 239-503-1533.

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2 Responses to “Fight for fair food”

  1. Alex said

    Thanks for the informative post! Here’s a CA lawyer’s blog post about current efforts to “fix” this problem along with some other links to specific stories concerning farmworkers and violation of labor laws.

    http://www.californiaemploymentlawyersblog.com/2010/06/in-yesterdays-blog-our-santa.html

    Check out the link to the story about blueberry harvest labor conditions. I heard firsthand that this is pretty bad in Michigan. I have a friend who actually went undercover and ended up being the lead plaintiff when he and the farmers sued the farmer for violations of various labor laws.

  2. Aubergine said

    Wow! Thanks for your comment Alex.

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