For decades, Florida's farmworkers have faced terrible abuses and brutal exploitation. Workers frequently earn sub-poverty wages for toiling 60 to 70 hours per week in season; some have even been chained to poles, locked inside trucks, beaten, and robbed of their pay. In the face of this grim reality, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) has offered continuing rays of hope since its founding to tackle these issues in 1993.
The Nation has written about the CIW many times before. A community-based worker organization which helped expose a half-dozen slavery cases that helped trigger the freeing of more than 1,000 workers, the CIW advocates on behalf of seasonal workers in Florida for better wages, living conditions, respect from the industry, and an end to indentured servitude.
Just last month, Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel hailed the grassroot group's recent victory -- its eighth fair food agreement, this one with foodservice giant Aramark -- and lauded the organization's innovative Modern-Day Slavery Museum, which is traveling throughout Florida to remind citizens that slavery and terrible exploitation persists in the agriculture fields of the state up through this very day.
And I've reported in this space on a number of the CIW's notable efforts over the last four years, including its successful campaigns to convince Chipotle, Taco Bell and Burger King to increase wages, benefits and observe a strict set of guidelines outlining workplace safety rules.
Now, the CIW is gearing up for its biggest march ever -- on Publix Supermarkets -- which has refused to sign the same penny-per-pound and code of conduct agreements that other high-volume tomato purchasing corporations like McDonald's, Subway and Whole Foods have adopted.
Publix, however, has refused to similarly take responsibility.
So, the CIW has organized what is expected to be its largest action ever -- a twenty-two mile march from Tampa to Lakeland, where Publix is based. The march is broken up into two distinct daily segments, and will culminate in a rally and concert on Sunday, April 18. The actress and activist Gloria Reuben will join Kerry Kennedy, founder of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, and Stetson Kennedy, Florida's premier folklorist and longtime human rights champion, as rally hosts. Check the CIW site for more info and instructions on how to register to participate.
For all the many of you who aren't able to join the march, please send Publix CEO Ed Crenshaw an email politely expressing your "support for the Farmworker Freedom March and your hope that he'll begin working with the CIW to address the sub-poverty wages and abuses faced by the farmworkers who pick Publix’s tomatoes.
PS: If you have extra time on your hands and want to follow me on Twitter -- a micro-blog -- click here. You'll find (slightly) more personal posts, breaking news, music, basketball and lots of links.