The Fair Food Program goes to Washington…

Laura Germino of the CIW (middle, in front of vase) stands between Florida Congresswoman Lois Frankel (D-FL, on right) and Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA, on left) during a picture taken before the State of the Union address.  The group includes Congressional representatives and the activists working to end sexual harassment and assault in the workplace who were invited to attend the address as a show of solidarity with the #TimesUp movement.

Congresswoman Lois Frankel (D-FL): “Laura’s tireless efforts to provide workers with a safe, dignified workplace is an example that all industries – from farms, to hotels, to Hollywood – can follow.”

Frankel (cont’d.): “Our nation is in the middle of a cultural revolution, where workers are demanding respectful workplaces that are free of sexual harassment. I’m bringing Laura and her success story to Washington to echo that call.”

In a nod to the gesture that launched the Time’s Up movement at last month’s Golden Globes ceremony in Hollywood, dozens of Congresswomen and Congressmen took the opportunity of Wednesday night’s State of the Union address to demonstrate their solidarity with survivors of sexual violence — and their support for efforts to end sexual harassment and assault in the workplace — by dressing in black and inviting activists from around the country to attend the annual high profile event as their guests in the Nation’s Capital. 

As one of the leaders of the Congressional #TimesUp contingent (pictured below, in its full glory, at a gathering ahead of the speech), Representative Lois Frankel of Florida’s 21st District reached out to the CIW and invited Laura Germino, the Director of the CIW’s Anti-Slavery Program, to join her at the Capitol and represent the Fair Food Program as proof that a concrete solution to the scourge of sexual violence is possible. 

Here’s Rep. Frankel, together with some of her colleagues, explaining via Twitter why they felt it was time to show their support for the fight against sexual exploitation:

The Representatives’ gesture generated a significant wave of national and local media interest, which, in Laura’s case, included everything from a well-attended press conference held at the airport with Rep. Frankel before leaving for Washington, to interviews throughout the day Wednesday.  It also served to lift up the Fair Food Program as a model for workers and industries around the country that are looking for a proven solution for curbing sexual abuse at work. 

Here below are just a few of the excerpts.

From The Huffington Post:

… Frankel has invited Laura Germino, an anti-trafficking activist and co-founder of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a human rights organization that promotes safe and fair conditions for farmworkers.

Germino said she will wear black to the State of the Union.

“I represent not myself, but what we can all achieve when we work together. I carry the message that it’s real, it can be done,” Germino said. “Because one more victim is too much, when there’s a proven way to put a stop to harassment. Our path may be long and sometimes challenging, but with commitment and collaboration, we can convert the #MeToo moment into a movement.” 

The seasoned activist said it’s time to focus on ending workplace harassment. 

“It’s all the more outrageous that women ― and men ― continue to suffer sexual abuse in the workplace when it’s proven highly preventable,” Germino said. “The solution is here, and now: It’s past time for corporations and industries to ensure that all employees — women and men ― are protected. We’ve had inquiries from dairy, janitorial and construction workers, Olympic Committee members, the entertainment and fashion sectors ― the model is only confined now by the will to implement it. What we are truly talking about is #MeTooNoMore…”  (read more)

… When the Democratic women’s decision to wear black was first announced in the earlier part of January, many on the right heaped disdain on the congresswomen, trying to paint them as fluffy-headed lightweights who are all talk and no action.

“Gimmicks like this are little more than shallow virtue-signaling,” sneered right-wing writer S.E. Cupp in a Jan. 11 article. She argued that “as far as we know, there are no plans in Washington to invite activists in the #MeToo movement to attend as guests of lawmakers.”

This, readers will not be surprised to find out, is flat-out false. On the contrary, Democratic lawmakers are pointedly inviting a broad array of activists and other figures — some of them survivors — who have worked to fight sexual abuse and harassment in all its forms.

Frankel told Salon her guest will be Laura Germino of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.  Germino helped spearhead an effort called the Fair Food Program, which sets standards to protect agricultural workers from abuse, including sexual abuse.  So far, the program has had huge success in curtailing labor rights abuses in Florida tomato fields and there’s hope that its practices can be expanded… (read more)

The Tampa Bay Times:

Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach: Laura Germino, co-founder of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. In her role, Ms. Germino was instrumental in establishing CIW’s revolutionary Fair Food Program, which is nationally recognized as a success story in eliminating sexual harassment and increasing wages for tomato farmworkers.

and Vox:

… Other members of Congress will bring assault survivors or anti-harassment advocates as their guests. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) plans to bring Fatima Goss Graves, president of the National Women’s Law Center, which administers the Time’s Up legal defense fund. Rep. Ann McLane Kuster (D-NH) will bring Chessy Prout, who was sexually assaulted at St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire. Frankel will bring Laura Germino, a co-founder of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, an organization that has worked to prevent harassment and increase wages for farm workers in Florida.

Under the CIW’s Fair Food Program, employers agree to a code of conduct for farm workers, which bans abuses like sexual assault and forced labor, Germino told Vox. If employers violate the code, food buyers — like McDonald’s, Walmart, and Whole Foods — will stop buying their products. Germino says the program helps workers feel safe reporting misconduct. Thirty-five supervisors have been disciplined for harassment as part of the program, she added, and 11 have been fired.

Germino’s goal on Tuesday night is not just to highlight the problem of sexual harassment, but to emphasize “the need to get to the solution,” she said. “If it can happen in the rural southeast with farm worker women who are in what was one of the most regressive industries in the country,” she explained, “it can happen anywhere…”  (read more

All in all, the decision to turn the State of the Union into a national teaching moment on the problem of sexual exploitation at work — and, above all, on the solution to sexual violence that the Fair Food Program represents — was a huge success.  We thank Rep. Frankel for including the CIW in this historic moment, and look forward to working together in the months and years ahead in the fight for fundamental workplace equality and justice, for all of Florida’s workers.