Fifty years ago, Edward R. Murrow produced a report entitled "Harvest of Shame" on the terrible working conditions faced by Flordia tomato farm workers. This week, the farm workers and the tomato growing industry finally agreed on new rules for fair pay and humane conditions for the workers. Sen. Bernie Sanders for years worked with the coalition of farm workers in order to help them receive the treatment and pay they deserve. The senator has visited the Florida tomato farms and held a Senate labor committee hearing, along with the late Edward Kennedy, to spotlight working conditions on the farms. Upon hearing of the breakthrough, Sanders said, "We now have to be vigilant to make sure that tomato workers receive the pay raise that they have rightfully earned and that slavery and abusive labor conditions in Florida’s tomato fields are abolished once and for all.
“The Coalition of Immokalee Workers has just proven that when you get up every day to fight for what is right, when you don’t give up even when all the odds are against you, when you don’t compromise on basic principles of fairness, and when you build a strong grassroots movement, economic justice will prevail over greed, and the least fortunate can successfully stand up to the powerful.
“Over these long years, there were many times when Florida’s tomato workers and the CIW could have backed down and just walked away. Thankfully, they did not. I applaud the CIW and the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange for reaching this historic agreement.”
The breakthrough agreement comes after fifteen years of often contentious relations between the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and the growers' association. The CIW is a community-based farmworker organization headquartered in Immokalee, Florida, with over 4,000 members. The CIW seeks modern working conditions for farmworkers and promotes their fair treatment in accordance with national and international human rights standards.
“This is a watershed moment in the history of Florida agriculture,” said Lucas Benitez of the CIW. “With this agreement, the Florida tomato industry – workers and growers alike – is coming together in partnership to turn the page on the conflict and stagnation of the past and instead forge a new and stronger industry.”
“Make no mistake, there is still much to be done,” continued Benitez. “This is the beginning, not the end, of a very long journey. But with this agreement, the pieces are now in place for us to get to work on making the Florida tomato industry a model of social accountability for the 21st century.”