Slavery Lingers

The Fort Myers’s News-Press ran a piece about the persistence of slavery that highlights the work of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.

In recent years, The Coalition of Immokalee Workers has made headlines — as recently as last week — by convincing fast-food restaurants to increase pay for Florida tomato pickers.

Yet along with these efforts, the coalition pursues another part of its mission: ending slavery. This ancient scourge remains a modern problem, members say, pointing to the upcoming sentencing of four Navarrete family members who pleaded guilty in one of Southwest Florida’s “biggest, ugliest slavery cases ever,” according to Chief Assistant U.S. Attorney Doug Molloy.

At the same time, the leader of the state’s largest tomato industry group denies knowledge of slavery in U.S. Senate hearings this spring and has reiterated those denials to The News-Press.

In his Senate testimony, Reggie Brown, executive vice president of the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange, to which 90 percent of tomato growers belong, called charges growers have enslaved workers “false and defamatory.”

“Let me state unequivocally that Florida’s tomato growers abhor and condemn slavery,” Brown told the senators.

My response: “At this point, (the FTGE) is like a drunk out in the middle of the street screaming out to everyone that there is no problem. It’s just so obvious that there is a problem – you can’t say the same thing over and over again in the face of this reality.”

Under current law, growers can use crews provided by independent labor contractors, who must hold state licenses.

That allows growers to sidestep responsibility for abuses, said U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who sponsored the hearings. He intends to use his position on the Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee to change that.

“We need to end the loophole in current law that lets growers avoid responsibility for what happens in their fields – fields where workers are being enslaved,” Sanders said.

Besides my uncharacteristically succinct quotes, and a factual error (FL has over 100,000 farmworkers, not 10,000-30,000) I think this article does a great job of laying out the labor/slavery situation in FL. Read it all, here.

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