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Immokalee Workers Protest Aramark and Publix

By Fernando Figueroa |
November 1, 2009
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Protestors holding signs and listening to speeches at the protest.
150 people, including farmworkers from Immokalee, Florida, students and community supporters, rallied on Oct. 24 to fight for better wages and working conditions for the farmworkers. (Fight Back! News/Staff)

A group of about 150 people, including farmworkers from Immokalee, Florida, students and community supporters, rallied on Oct. 24 to fight for better wages and working conditions for the farmworkers. Members of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) traveled to Gainesville to build their ongoing campaigns against Aramark, a major food service provider on many college campuses, and Publix, a popular supermarket chain in the South.

Workers are asking for Aramark and Publix to sit down and promise safer and more humane working conditions in the fields and for the two corporations to meet the workers’ demand for “a penny more per pound” of tomatoes picked. Currently, a farmworker in Immokalee must pick two tons of tomatoes a day to make $50.

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers is an organization comprised mostly of Latino, indigenous and Haitian immigrants fighting for an end to the illegal practices and unjust working conditions present on commercial farms in Immokalee.

Since 1997 the Coalition of Immokalee Workers has exposed, filed charges against and convicted seven in cases of slavery involving over 1000 farmworkers. The rich bosses held workers against their will at night in large trucks and would beat or sometimes even whip workers who protested, until the workers organized and fought back.

The Oct. 24 protest came after workers from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, members of the Student Farmworker Alliance and allies from Students for a Democratic Society arranged a series of talks during classes the previous week. The experience of meeting and hearing from oppressed and exploited farmworkers inspired many students to march in solidarity with the farmworkers during the protest, chanting “No more slaves! Pay a living wage!” in front of the campus Aramark office and a local Publix supermarket.

So far the Coalition of Immokalee Workers is winning its fight for “a penny more per pound” from major corporations including McDonald’s, Burger King, Taco Bell, Whole Foods, Compass Foods, Yum! Brands and Subway. With the combined efforts of student activists and community supporters led by the workers themselves, it is very likely Publix and Aramark will soon have to accept the demands of the farmworkers. As Coalition member Oscar Otzoy said, “Our unity brings strength, and strength brings change.”

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