The Chipotle restaurant chain calls its product “Food With Integrity”. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), an organization of mostly immigrant farmworkers in Florida’s fields says, “Really? Then let’s talk about the SWEATSHOP TOMATOES IN YOUR BURRITOS!”
A busload of farmworkers will be in Champaign and Urbana this Tuesday, October 17, and they are making the most of their time here. They’ll be giving classroom presentations throughout the day Tuesday, meeting with activists at lunch and in the early afternoon, and then picketing a popular Mexican food chain on campus.
From there they head directly to a potluck dinner with more local activists and then back to campus for an evening presentation on conditions in the fields and their campaign to change them. They’ll crash at a supporter’s home and hit the road on Wednesday. What a life!
In the fields
So just how bad can tomato pickers’ wages be – in the US – in 2006? The average worker gets paid 40 cents for picking one bucketful, or 32 pounds of tomatoes. In other words, she or he has to pick two tons of tomatoes every day just to reach the federal poverty level for a family of three. No sick days. No holidays. No overtime. No allowances for bad weather, drought or low yield crops. The basic wage for most tomato pickers has not changed in decades.
A recent victory in the boycott against Taco Bell, organized by CIW, resulted in the corporate giant paying one cent more per pound for its tomatoes. Organizers say that one cent is negligible from the consumer’s perspective, but multiplied over the many tons of tomatoes that farmworkers pick it is enough to significantly improve many lives.
But most big buyers, and therefore most growers and most tomato pickers, are still waiting for this kind of historic raise.
Taco Bell also agreed to work closely with CIW to improve conditions in the fields.
How bad can conditions in the fields be? There have been six federal slavery convictions in the Florida fields since 1997. Growers have held workers in the fields at gunpoint, beat them, pistol whipped them, held them in debt slavery and locked them in squalid labor camps over night – chains across the gates, armed guards, no visitors, nobody in or out after dark.
Temperatures in the fields can reach 110 degress Fahrenheit, yet there is often no water available. In fact, some workers report receiving beatings for asking for a drink. There are usually no bathroom facilities, either.
Most people in the United States also do not know that farmworkers are exempt from federal protections relating to the right to form, join and participate in labor unions. Always have been. It is perfectly legal to fire a farmworker in the US today for signing a union card. The Immokalee Workers risk a lot.
CIW has been to Urbana-Champaign before. Last year another group on a similar tour stopped at the IMC for an evening with local activists and showed a video on conditions in the fields and the McDonald's restaurant chain's campaign against the CIW.
Before that, during the Taco Bell campaign, several local union and religious activists picketed the Taco Bell restaurant on University Avenue with a giant puppet as part of a national "puppet tour", which led to some very interesting conversations with the restaurant's workers and with police.
This time the local connection is much more active. There will be several chances to lend a hand, show support and learn more. The main events for community participation on Tuesday afternoon are:
Community Picket for Fair Food
Oct. 17 at 5:00 PM
Corner of Sixth and Green on campus.
Potluck dinner with Immokalee Workers
Oct. 17 at 6:30 PM
Come meet and eat with the Immokalee workers!
[Finalized location T.B.A. below]
Presentation on the current campaign
Oct. 17 at 8pm
Corner of Wright and Chalmers.
For more info: www.ciw-online.org
or call 328-3037.