Farm Bosses Plead Guilty In Immokalee Slavery Case

In case you missed it, on the eve of their trial, the Navarrete farm bosses pleaded guilty to enslaving Immokalee workers in the tomato fields.

There was also great editorial at The News-Press that shines a spotlight on the work being done by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers:

This is among six slavery cases the Coalition of Immokalee Workers has helped prosecute, freeing more than 1,000 people. Coalition member Gerardo Reyes asked Tuesday, “How many more workers have to be held against their will before the food industry steps up to the plate and demands that this never–ever–occur again in the produce that ends up on America’s tables?”

That will help, but comprehensive immigration reform, including a path to legal residency and citizenship for certain workers, is also necessary to bring this shameful plague to an end.

So long as agriculture relies on illegal labor, a culture of human exploitation and disrespect for the law will prevail, so we can eat slightly cheaper food and certain people can pocket extra profit.

Disrespect for human beings is in the DNA of the current system. Respect demands that we legalize the foreign labor we clearly need to harvest our crops.

We need a mix of guest worker programs, liberalized legal immigration and a path to legal status and earned citizenship for illegal immigrants who are committed to life in this country.

Later, US Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), a member of the Senate labor committee, issued a statement on the convictions:

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… 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.

Senator Sanders, also a member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pension (HELP) Committee pledge to introduce legislation to close loopholes in current law which enable growers to avoid taking responsibility for what happens on their fields.

For more news from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, visit the news page of their site here. To read about the Navarrete conviction, visit The News-Press story or run a search for “Navarrete” on this blog.

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