Ever wondered what it feels like to lift a 32-pound bucket of tomatoes? When the Coalition of Imokalee Workers' Modern Day Slavery Museum, which kicked off its statewide tour last week, hits town you'll have a chance. That 32-pound bucket is part of the museum's multimedia exhibit.
South Florida farm workers lift those buckets dozens of times a day, for eight to ten hours at a stretch. And for every basket they pick, lift, and haul, they make about 45 cents, a wage that hasn't budged more than a few pennies in 30 years.
The Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a community-based farm workers' organization based in Imokalee and now 4,000 strong, has been lobbying to change that for 15 years: They've applied enough pressure to Whole Foods, Taco Bell, and Burger King to persuade these giant consumers of Florida tomatoes to pay an extra penny a pound -- which adds up to about $20 a day extra for farm workers. Next stop, Publix.
The group has also fought hard to eradicate contemporary agricultural slavery, helping to free more than 1,000 agricultural workers being held against their will in hideous conditions.
The coalition's mobile museum, scheduled to hit our vicinity March 30, will park at Florida Atlantic University's Jupiter campus for the day before moving on to Miami. It's a replica of the 24-foot trailer that kept 12 Mexican and Guatemalan workers enslaved by the Navarrete family in Imokalee. After the workers escaped through a hole in the truck's ceiling, four members of the family were tried and convicted in December 2008 thanks in large part to the work of the coalition. Two family bosses were sentenced to 12 years for enslaving and beating migrant workers, forcing them to work on the farms of some of Florida's largest tomato producers, Pacific and Six L's.
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The CIF has asked Publix to stop buying tomatoes from Pacific and Six L's, and thus far, Publix has refused. But after touring the state, the museum truck will help turn the screws: It'll be rolling along at the head of a protest march April 16 from Tampa to Publix's Lakeland corporate headquarters. Presumably the sight of a slave truck parked in the grocer's lot will foster a change of heart. Maybe the corporate bosses will even step out and take a shot at lifting that tomato bucket.