Senator Bernie Sanders, author Eric Schlosser visit Immokalee, CIW!

Senator Sanders addresses the press gathered at CIW headquarters 1/18/08. Click here to see a higher resolution Quicktime video of Senator Sanders’ address.

Senator calls for hearings “so that the American people can understand how slavery can take place in the year 2008.”

One day after a federal grand jury indicted six people in Immokalee for their part in what US Attorney Doug Molloy called, “Slavery, plain and simple,” (Ft. Myers News Press, 1/18/08) US Senator Bernie Sanders declared:

“The headline in today’s newspaper says all that has to be said.  In the year 2008, in the United States of America, slavery exists.  Human beings are being forced to work against their will, are being beaten, are being denied their most basic freedoms.  This should not be happening in the United States in 2008.  This exploitation must end.

You can see a video of Senator Sanders’ speech from the 1/18/08 press conference — held at the CIW’s headquarters, just blocks from where prosecutors say tomato pickers were held against their will, chained, and beaten by their employers — in its entirety by clicking here.

In his powerful speech, Senator Sanders condemned Burger King and the private equity firms that are its major shareholders for their role in profiting from farmworker poverty, saying the American people:

“… need to understand why it is that huge multi-national corporations that make billions in profits are unable to pay people who supply the products they use a living wage.  They need to know why financial institutions like Goldman-Sachs and others, who have major holdings in companies like Burger King, are not applying the proper moral leverage to bring about the necessary changes.”

Senator Sanders also had strong words for the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange, whose resistance to fair wages and working conditions for farmworkers has temporarily halted progress initiated with the CIW’s agreements with Yum Brands and McDonald’s. Noting that the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange executive Reggie Brown referred to the one-cent pay raise established in those agreements as “pretty much near un-American,” Sanders said in a release announcing the press conference:

“Well, let me tell you what’s un-American. Making workers pick nearly two and a half tons of tomatoes just so they can earn the minimum wage is un-American. Treating workers like slaves is un-American. Not providing decent housing for workers is un-American. Allowing workers to earn a decent living and treating workers with respect is not un-American. Indeed, it is what America is supposed to be about.”

At the press conference, Senator Sanders also released two letters signed by four US Senators – Sen. Sanders, Sen. Richard Durbin, Sen. Edward Kennedy, and Sen. Sherrod Brown – sent to John Chidsey, CEO of Burger King Corporation, and Reggie Brown of the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange (FTGE), urging both Burger King and the FTGE to participate in the CIW-led initiative to improve farmworker wages and end the exploitation of Florida’s tomato harvesters. You can download a pdf version of the letters by clicking here (both letters are included in the one file).

During their two-day visit, Senator Sanders and Eric Schlosser met with CIW members, toured the community, joined workers in the early morning as they gathered in search of work (right), traveled to the fields, and spoke with members of the Anti-Trafficking Unit of the Collier County Sheriff’s department who work with the CIW in investigating slavery operations in the area. The visit concluded with the press conference, which was widely covered in the local and national press.

Here below is a round-up of all the media reports on the exciting visit, and a CIW photo report, to boot:

Click on the photo below for the CIW photo report:

Click on the links below for all the media coverage:


Finally, click here to read “The King’s Penny Pinching,” a hard-hitting editorial from the NewsBlaze that includes a link to a current American Rights at Work e-action demanding, “Burger King play fair and treat workers with respect.”