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Students support CIW campaign

Becky Hogan | Wednesday, April 30, 2008

A group of seven Notre Dame students collected 464 signatures to help the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) in its campaing against Burer King.

The CIW is leading a nationwide protsts decrying the low wages of migrant workers who work on farms that produce Buger King’s tomatoes.

According to an Associated Press article, over 85,000 signatures were presented to Burger King’s headquarters Monday in Miami. The signatures – representing CIW advocates worldwide who are protesting Burger King’s worker wages – included people from all 50 states and 43 other countries.

According to its Web site, the CIW is a “community-based worker organization [made up of] Latino, Haitian and Mayan Indian immigrants working in low-wage jobs throughout the state of Florida.”

The CIW works to increase wages for its workers and workers’ rights for migrant workers.

Senior Laura Bradley, who has been active collecting signatures on campus, said recent Notre Dame graduate Lupe Gomez interned with the CIW this year and was among those who presented the signatures with the CIW to Burger King Monday.

“Our hope is that Burger King will feel the pressure from consumers across the country because of this petition and they will agree to the three terms of the petition,” Bradley said.

The CIW petition demands: increasing a migrant worker’s wage one penny more per pound of tomatoes that they pick; starting dialogue with the farm workers, growers and corporations; and creating a human-rights based code of conduct for the farm workers.

“As a Catholic – as someone who claims to desire to follow Christ – this situation in Immokalee is not okay,” Bradley said. “For how hard they work and what kind of work they are doing, there is no reason that any of these workers should be living in poverty in the United States.”

Bradley expressed concern for the plight of the workers in Immakolee, Fla. where she witnessed first-hand by participating in the Center for Social Concern’s (CSC) Migrant Seminar last spring break.

“As humans, there is no reason why [the workers] should be treated like they are. I cannot just sit around, knowing that human rights are being violated every day in the fields,” she said.

Bradley explained that consumers have a responsibility to ensure that the farm workers receive just wages and treatment for their work.

“We all ignore this systematic problem because we want our food cheap, and we don’t care how we get it,” she said. “We never see the faces who provide our food in the dining hall. However, as consumers, Christians and … people, we have a choice to make.”

Juniors Michael Healy and Jessica Winschel also participated in the migrant seminar this spring and were surprised by the realities they witnessed in Immakolee.

“A lot of farmers go through subcontractors who either get them documentation or who are illegally bringing them across the border,” Healy said.

Healy said by the time the workers reach the United States, they have no money and have been tricked into thousands of dollars worth of debt and are forced to work the fields.

“It was really an awakening experience to realize that there’s slavery in the U.S.” Winschel said.

Based on her experiences in the seminar, Winschel said a typical day for a migrant worker involves waking up at 4 a.m., waiting for buses to come to transport them to work sites, hoping that they will be picked to work in the fields, and only getting paid for the amount of tomatoes they pick.

Healy said one of the largest issues for workers in Immokalee is that there are no regulations to protect workers.

“There are cases of abuse in the fields. Workers are stuck in difficult situations and have no one to complain to,” he said.

According to Healy, each worker has to pick two tons of tomatoes a day just to make minimum wage.

“For one 32-pound bucket [of tomatoes] a worker receives 40 cents. If they work a complete day, they’ll make roughly $50 a day,” he said.

The group of students who gathered petitions has been helping to support the CIW’s cause since they returned from the Migrant seminar in March.

In early April, the group put cardboard silhouettes on South Quad listing the abuses that migrant workers face to commemorate the Caesar Chavez Day of Action.

They have also been giving classroom presentations on the challenges that migrant workers face in Florida.

Bradley said the group plans to continue its efforts to help the CIW next year, unless Burger King decides to adopt the demands of the petition.

Winschel said college students played a large role in the CIW’s campaign against Taco Bell in 2004 and the CIW hopes to see the same type of success its campaign against Burger King.

Bradley said that the University should be involved in this issue in accordance with its Catholic identity.

“[Our Catholic identity] is reason enough to want to advocate for the rights of these workers,” she said.

Bradley declined to release names of administrators the group has met with to discuss the University’s role in the CIW’s campaign against Burger King though she said the student group she is working with is awaiting responses from more than one administrator on the issue.

“We will be working through the end of the semester to try to keep up communication to make sure that awareness is raised about this issue,” she said.

According to Bradley, however, Chipotle, Subway and Whole Foods corporations are next on the CIW’s list to fight for workers’ wages and rights since these corporations rely on the tomatoes picked by Immokalee’s farm workers.

“No matter who the CIW is focusing on, the students I am working with here on campus realize how pressing this issue is, and they are in it for the long run,” Bradley said.