The Race to the Bottom

The Senate labor committee scheduled a hearing Tuesday on working conditions for farm workers in southern Florida. In extreme cases, federal prosecutors in the region have brought slavery charges related to working conditions on the farms that produce about 4 billion fresh tomatoes a year. The most recent slavery indictment was handed up last winter on a day when Senator Bernie Sanders was touring the tomato fields with representatives of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. "At a time when mil

The Senate labor committee scheduled a hearing Tuesday on working conditions for farm workers in southern Florida. In extreme cases, federal prosecutors in the region have brought slavery charges related to working conditions on the farms that produce about 4 billion fresh tomatoes a year. The most recent slavery indictment was handed up last winter on a day when Senator Bernie Sanders was touring the tomato fields with representatives of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. "At a time when millions of American workers are very tragically involved in a race to the bottom, as far as longer hours for lower wages, I think that it's probably fair to say that the working conditions in Immokalee are the bottom," Sanders told Congressional Quarterly for an article in advance of the Senate committee hearing.

Lucas Benitez, a former farm worker and cofounder of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, and Charlie Frost, a Collier County sheriff's office detective, are among the witnesses scheduled to testify at the hearing of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. So are investigative reporter Eric Schlosser; Mary Bauer, director of the Immigrant Justice Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center; Reggie Brown, executive vice president of the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange; and Roy Reyna, a farm manager.

With the upcoming hearing as a backdrop, the Ft. Myers News-Press on Sunday disclosed that the coalition and its supporters had been "vilified online and in e-mails that can be traced to the Miami headquarters of Burger King, a company that's opposed the groups' efforts."

To read the News-Press article, click here.

To read an article about the tomato pickers in The New York Times, click here.

For more background, click here.