Recently, five five Immokalee, Florida residents pled guilty to enslaving and brutalizing farm workers and yesterday the Coalition of Immokalee Workers reported that Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), a member of the Senate labor committee, made a statement in regard to the plea. This is what he had to say:
I think most Americans would find it hard to believe that people in our country are pleading guilty to slavery charges in the year 2008, but that is what is going on in the tomato fields of Florida. And, of course, this is not the first case. It is the sixth successful slavery prosecution which has resulted in the freeing of about 1,000 workers.
While slavery is, of course, the most extreme situation in the tomato fields, the truth is that the average worker there is being ruthlessly exploited. Tomato pickers perform backbreaking work, make very low wages, have no benefits and virtually no labor protections.
I applaud U.S. Attorney Doug Molloy and his staff for successfully prosecuting this case. I also want to congratulate the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) for their on-going efforts to protect some of the most exploited workers in our country.
In terms of raising wages, I am glad that Burger King recently joined Yum! Brands (Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and other fast food outlets) and McDonalds in agreeing to pay an additional penny per pound for tomatoes. My hope is that other major tomato purchasers will soon be making the same commitment.
As a member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pension (HELP) Committee I intend to introduce legislation in the very near future which will end a loophole in current law which enables growers to avoid taking responsibility for what happens on their fields when workers are being enslaved.