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Club fights to improve working conditions

Megan Doyle | Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Human rights violations against farm workers in Florida are the focus an on-campus Latino student activist club MEChA’s upcoming Education Night as part of a Week of Action for better working conditions and fair food policies.

MEChA, the Movimiento Estundiantil Chicano de Aztlán, strives to raise awareness of social and cultural issues in the community as well as human rights, particularly for Latinos, according to MEChA’s Web site.

The club’s Social Action Committee is spearheading work with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), an organization founded by immigrants in Immokalee, Fla., in order to bring about a change in their poor working conditions in the fields.

The Campaign for Fair Food, a major CIW project, is a boycott against fast-food giants and the corporate food industry. The Immokalee workers have encountered success by forging contracts with some of the nation’s largest fast food producers, including McDonald’s, Taco Bell and Subway, to take responsibility for the workers who provide the produce used by their restaurants, according to the CIW Web site.

“The CIW has three main demands in the Campaign for Fair Food and their work right now,” MEChA member senior Nicole Medina said. “They are fighting for fair working conditions, a place at the table, meaning a say in what happens to them and, finally, a penny more per pound of tomatoes picked.”

The CIW reports that 10 to 12 hours of work yields only 45 cents for every 32 pounds of tomatoes picked by these Florida workers. This means that over 2.5 tons of tomatoes are required to earn the equivalent of the minimum hourly wage for 10 hours. This rate has not changed significantly in over 30 years, and the working conditions of the farmers from Immokalee are comparative to modern-day slavery, according to the CIW Web site.

“A lot of people just do not know what is going on and understand whose back bears the burden of the things that we take for granted,” co-president senior Rocío Aguiñaga said. “We work for a greater appreciation of our rights as we try to bring them to others as well.”

The week of Nov. 18 through Nov. 25 is designated as a Week of Action for protests against major national supermarkets. In order to compliment the CIW’s pressure on Publix, a southern grocery store, MECHA’s Social Action Committee will host an Education Night this Thursday in order to provide information about the CIW and the human rights violations in Immokalee.

Guadalupe Gomez, a Notre Dame graduate, said the Education Night is “a chance to educate people in the community about what is going on and how they can get involved.”

Another Notre Dame alumna and MEChA activist Melanie Gonzales will also attend the event and discuss her experiences with the workers in Immokalee and the opportunities for change. Guests can then sign delegation letters to Kroger managers that will show consumer dissatisfaction with the store’s policies.

Notre Dame representatives also said they hope to ­­be present at the additional protests on Kroger in Lakeland, Fla., in December.

Medina said MEChA is one strongly rooted in community and works to bring equality to all people. The club strives to spread awareness through the Notre Dame community about human rights violations that affect not only Latino Americans but also all Americans.

“If we can focus our efforts on getting this campus more aware, then we will have already won part of the battle,” she said.

Freshman Victor Cruz recently joined the club and has been involved in the Social Action Committee and the Week of Action planning.

“I grew up with parents who instilled in me a pride in my heritage,” he said. “MEChA is my way of focusing my energy and my passion about that subject into something good for the community.”

The University offers a Migrant Experiences Seminar involving immersion into the Immokalee community and first-hand experiences with the difficult lives of these laborers. According to the Center for Social Concerns’ Web site, the course introduces students to the difficulties and social issues surrounding migrant farm labor. A trip to Immokalee over semester break is a central component of the seminar.

MEChA’s Education Night will be tomorrow from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in DeBartolo room 140.