Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Immokalee Farmworkers: Still A Harvest of Shame After All These Years

What primitive society is this? I say invade their country, kill their leaders and convert them to....Oops, it's Florida, USA:
IMMOKALEE, Fla. -- The best part of the farm workers' day may be 4 a.m., still pitch black out, when they gather in a concrete building on the corner of Third and Main for hot coffee and bread.

Minutes later, hundreds of them, almost all men, head to a parking lot behind the building to wait for farm crew chiefs who will pick the workers who will pick the tomatoes for the day.

If they're lucky, the workers get to spend 12 hours on their hands and knees, filling buckets of tomatoes for 40 to 50 cents a bucket. To make at least $50, they scurry to fill 125 32-pound buckets -- two tons of tomatoes. But if it rains, as it did Friday, work stops. The workers are returned to the parking lot in rickety school buses 12 hours after they left, having earned just a few dollars, maybe none at all.

In short, things have not changed much in the 45 years since Edward R. Murrow's television documentary "Harvest of Shame" highlighted the plight of Immokalee's migrant workers. Today the Immokalee area, about 40 miles inland from the Gulf of Mexico in southwest Florida, produces the largest supply of fresh tomatoes for the nation's supermarkets, as well as for some of the biggest fast-food chains in the world. But the farm workers are still dirt poor. They still work long days with no overtime, no benefits and no job security, seven days a week. They still live squished into hovels or packed 12 to a trailer, in trailers fit to be scrap.

But the Immokalee farm workers, or tomato pickers, as they call themselves, are making the improvement of their condition a national cause.
Yum! Brands Inc., is the world's largest restaurant company with five restaurant chains. Yum! Brands Inc., the world's largest restaurant company with five restaurant chains, purchases a substantial amount of Immokalee tomatoes and owns Taco Bell (along with KFC, Pizza Hut, A&W and Long John Silver's), which uses a lot of tomatoes, which is why the Coalition of Immokalee Workers is organizing a boycott of Taco Bell.