Coalition of Immokalee Workers
In March 2006, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a group of South Florida farmworkers, began a campaign
demanding better wages for the people who pick the tomatoes used by McDonald's and other fast food companies.
McDonald's is the second target after the Coalition succeeded against Taco Bell. McDonald's Corporation has claimed that its Socially Accountable Farm Employer (SAFE) program is equal to or superior to the historic agreement between the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) and Taco Bell.
SAFE was initially represented in November 2005 by CBR Public Relations Firm. According to their website, CBR-PR has "in-depth" experience handling "activist response management."
- SAFE, unlike the Taco Bell agreement, does not include a wage increase, worker participation, worker support or basic buying transparency.
- The SAFE program is run by the Florida Fruit and Beverage Association and the Redlands Christian Migrant Association (a childcare provider with no experience in labor issues).
- The Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association represents farmers who have an interest in reducing costs, often at the expense of farmworkers.
- This represents a conflict of interests.
- Under SAFE, farmworkers themselves continue to be excluded from monitoring the conditions under which they work.
According to the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights, "By partnering with SAFE and embracing its weak expectations — which don't include even such fundamental labor standards as the right to overtime pay and freedom of association — McDonald's is setting the bar even lower for its American agricultural producers than it does for its suppliers in communist China."
The Coalition of Immokalee Workers
and the rest of the Alliance for Fair Food
, including The Student/Farmworker Alliance and The Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights, are determined to continue to pressure McDonald's to support human rights "until victory is won."
Modern-day slavery - people forced to work for little or no pay through violence and threats of violence - continues to plague the US agricultural industry. The particularly high incidence of prosecutions in Florida prompted one federal prosecutor to call the state “ground zero for modern-day slavery” in the New Yorker magazine (“Nobodies: Does slavery exist in America?
” Apr 21 2003). Many of these cases were tried under anti-peonage laws passed just after the Civil War during Reconstruction.
But modern-day slavery does not occur in a vacuum. Rather, it is simply the most extreme form of exploitation made possible by the poverty and powerlessness facing the vast majority of Florida farmworkers every day they go to work in the fields. In the words of US Senator Bernie Sanders, following his recent visit to Immokalee, "the norm is a disaster, and the extreme is slavery."
Farmworkers are among the poorest workers in the United States and have very few labor protections. Most workers earn sub-poverty wages and do not have the legal rights to overtime pay, to organize and to bargain collectively. In 2001, the Department of Labor termed farmworkers "a labor force in significant economic distress." These sweatshop conditions are the fertile ground in which slavery continues to thrive.
The corporations that have come to dominate the trillion-dollar US food industry over the past fifty years – companies like Burger King, WalMart, Subway, and Costco – have not only profited from the exploitation of the country’s farmworkers, in the form of low-priced produce, but have actually contributed to that exploitation through their volume purchasing practices.
By leveraging the purchasing power of thousands of stores and restaurants, these huge chains are able to drive down prices at the farm gate (the price paid to the grower), which in turn drives down wages in the fields, as growers pass the cuts on to their labor to protect their own profits ("Like Machines in the Fields: Workers without Rights in American Agriculture," Oxfam America, 3/04).
Backs Marriage Equality
UNITE HERE, the union representing workers in the textile, clothing, hotel and restaurant industries, has called for equal access to marriage and its benefits for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender workers.
In a resolution adopted by the union's General Executive Board last week, the union said it would "support the rights of LGBT individuals and couples against discrimination in all areas including employment, housing and civil marriage."
Nancy Wohlforth, co-President of Pride at Work
, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender constituency group of the AFL-CIO
, praised UNITE HERE
's action, saying "this is a tremendous statement of solidarity with LGBT workers on the part of a major American union. It sends a clear message to employers and lawmakers that the labor movement will not tolerate discrimination against any of its members, in marital status as well as housing and employment."
UNITE HERE joins a growing number of unions that have endorsed civil marriage equality.
- American Federation of Teachers (AFT)
- American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE)
- American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME)
- Communications Workers of America (CWA)
- Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU)
- Service Employees International Union (SEIU)
- United Farm Workers
's membership is broadly diverse, with many women and
people of color as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual and
transgender workers. The resolution was submitted by UNITE HERE
General President Bruce Raynor and Hospitality President John
Wilhelm, and passed unanimously.
The resolution also pointed out the pitfalls inherent in trying
to create marriage-like legal statuses that are not called
"Civil union and domestic partnership laws, however
well intentioned, create an unequal legal status for same-sex
couples and their families," the resolution said.
Pride at Work Co-President T. Santora called on more unions to
follow the example of UNITE HERE
. "Labor has championed the
rights of minorities and disadvantaged groups for generations,"
he said. "It's time for the entire movement to rise to the
defense of LGBT workers, and demand equal access to marriage as
well as employment and housing."