US SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS Visit to Immokalee, Florida, and Press Conference January 17 – 18, 2008

Visit to Immokalee, Florida, and Press Conference
January 17 – 18, 2008

The Senator’s visit began with a walking tour through the community for a look at housing conditions and a quick history of the CIW’s organizing efforts in Immoklaee.

Following the tour, Sen. Sanders met with CIW leaders and key religious and student allies from the Campaign for Fair Food to discuss recent developments in the campaign and strategies in the months and years ahead.

In the evening of the first day, Senator Sanders joined CIW members for a roundtable discussion…
… where he learned first hand of the problems and challenges facing Florida farmworkers …

… and where he was joined by Eric Schlosser, who would accompany the Senator for the remainder of the two-day visit.

Sen. Sanders wrapped up his first day with an interview for the CIW’s low-power radio station “Radio Conciencia,” which was particularly appropriate given the Senator’s leading role in the Congressional expansion of low-power radio nationally.

The next morning, Senator Sanders got up early to witness the pre-dawn job search, where thousands of workers across the community gather in several central locations in search of employment for the day…

… and where the Senator saw with his own eyes some of the dangerous and degrading conditions faced by workers every day as they are carried out to the fields to pick.

As workers waited for a job, many stopped to talk with the Senator about the harsh conditions in Immokalee’s fields…

… and about wages, in particular, as the requirement to be up and available for work before sunrise only underscored the long hours, minimum wage violations, and lack of overtime faced by so many workers.

As the sun rose, the Senator made his way out to the fields…

… where he saw what is one of the defining frustrations of farmworkers throughout Florida — the time spent waiting for the sun to burn off the morning dew, time that can stretch into three hours every morning, time all too often not compensated in the world of farm labor.

And finally, it was time for the press conference, where Senator Sanders let no doubt that the eyes of the nation are turning toward the fields and that, “the American consumer does not want the tomatoes they eat to be picked by workers who are grossly mistreated.

He continued:

My strong belief is that the more the American people understand the situation here and the attacks on human rights and human dignity that are taking place, the more anger and frustration there will be.  No worker in America should be treated the way tomato pickers in Immokalee are being treated. In my view, when the American people read and hear about slavery taking place today, about horrendously low wages and terrible living conditions, they want to see change.

Lucas Benitez of the CIW followed the Senator with a stirring speech of his own. Lucas blasted Burger King and the rest of the $100 billion fast-food industry for having profited from — and having helped create — farmworker poverty and exploitation for decades, and for now threatening to cut off purchases from Florida tomato growers, not out of genuine concern for human rights, but a cynical concern for the damage the workers’ struggle to defend their rights might cause the second leading hamburger chain’s brand image.

The day wrapped up with more one-on-one interviews. The visit resulted in a great deal of excellent coverage, which you can sample by clicking on the links below:

Also, 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.”