Week of 3.13.09
Update: Tomatoes of WrathThink slavery is a thing of the past? Think again. The Coalition for Immokalee Workers (CIW), a group comprised of 4,000 low-wage, immigrant workers in southern Florida, says the practice still exists in the Sunshine State's tomato fields.
Lucas Benitez of CIW told NOW that the group is pressing Governor Charles Crist to take aggressive action against the instances of virtual and actual slavery uncovered earlier this month by Gourmet Magazine.
NOW first interviewed Benitez in April, 2007, as he was taking on large fast food corporations in the fight for higher wages. Since then, the group has made significant achievements which include reaching a deal with major fast food companies Burger King and Subway in 2008 to increase wages for tomato pickers; adding them to the list of previous hard-won agreements with chains Yum! Foods, McDonalds, Whole Foods, Long John Silver's, and Pizza Hut.
This week, 200 members of his group headed to Florida's capital Tallahassee to pressure the governor, who so far has refused to meet with the group to discuss the allegations despite numerous calls and letters from CIW members and supporters.
On Monday, CIW members performed silent demonstrations outside the Capitol building that re-enacted instances from the most recent federal slavery case in 2008 in which two tomato growers Cesar and Geovanni Navarrete were found guilty of beating their workers, chaining them to their workstations, robbing them of their paychecks and locking them inside their trucks without food, water, or bathroom facilities.
From December to May, as much as 90 percent of the fresh domestic tomatoes consumed by Americans come from south Florida, and the town of Immokalee is home to one of the area's largest communities of farmworkers, according to Gourmet. Douglas Molloy, the chief assistant U.S. attorney based in Fort Myers, calls Immokalee "ground zero for modern slavery."
In the past dozen years, police have prosecuted seven slave operations there, freeing more than 1,000 men and women who were kept captive and forced to work for little or no money. They were threatened with death if they tried to escape.
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