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Students rally for migrant wages

Jenn Metz | Monday, December 3, 2007

A crowd of about 40 gathered at the Fieldhouse Mall Friday despite freezing temperatures to listen to speakers talk about the plight of migrant tomato farmers in Florida and fight to end sub-poverty level wages.

Literature distributed at the rally said that Burger King, headquartered in Miami and a major purchaser of Florida tomatoes, has publicly rejected increasing the workers’ wages by a penny per pound. Two of its competitors, Taco Bell and McDonald’s, have both agreed to the pay raise, which would have been the first in 30 years.

Sophomore Kris Trujillo, one of the organizers of the event, spoke from a stage covered with posters, including one that read: “We are a Nation of Immigrants.”

“Today, thousands of people are marching in Miami, Florida, in an effort to stop sweatshop conditions and modern day slavery in the fields of South Florida,” he said.

A group of workers formed what is called the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) to help stop the injustice, he said. Their campaign has succeeded in the case of McDonald’s and Taco Bell. But Burger King, which has a branch in the LaFortune Student Center, has not agreed to their three demands: one penny more per pound of tomatoes picked, a code of conduct in the fields and a place at the negotiating table for future agreements.

The rally, which took place from 5 p.m. to 6, was co-organized by the Progressive Student Alliance (PSA) and Movimiento Estudantil Chicano de Aztlán (MEChA), a club that has previously worked to initiate the availability of free trade coffee on campus.

Trujillo, who is involved in MEChA, handed out literature and flyers as people passed by the rally.

“I thought it was good. It was more of an informational meeting,” Trujillo said.

Last year, after taking a seminar through the Center for Social Concerns, he “got to see the situation first hand” when he visited the predominantly migrant community of Immokalee, Fla.

“We talked about the issues they were facing down there and … led efforts to protest against McDonald’s,” Trujillo said.

About 1,000 people showed up at the rally against Burger King in Miami, he said, including about eight Notre Dame students.

One of his main goals, Trujillo said, was to educate students and members of the Notre Dame community about the problem, “what we’re trying to change and how Burger King is reacting in a negative manner.”

Sophomore Chris Meister was one of the Notre Dame rally’s attendees. He learned of the event and “about the different horrible conditions and unfair wages” through the PSA, he said.

“I don’t think that it’s right,” Meister said. He attended Friday’s rally because he wants “to do everything possible to help make a change in the situation. … This is the best thing to do since I can’t get to Miami.”

Overall, Trujillo was pleased with the event’s turnout.

“It was a good initial effort on our part to create at least a little bit of campus awareness,” he said. “People seemed really interested to see what the situation was.

However, the rally is “only the beginning” in organizers’ efforts to make people conscience consumers, Trujillo said.

In a Nov. 29 New York Times op-ed titled “Penny Foolish,” Eric Schlosser, the author of “Fast Food Nation,” wrote that the migrant workers in the South Florida tomato fields work for 10-12 hours a day picking tomatoes by hand to earn about 45 cents per every 32-pound bucket.

“Migrant farm laborers have long been among America’s most impoverished workers … and especially vulnerable to abuse,” he wrote.

Schlosser applauded the job of the CIW in working to improve the lives of migrant workers in Florida by investigating cases of slavery and pushing for wage negotiations with the major fast food chains.