The Tales of the Immokalee Workers ‘A Slice of Social Justice’

by, Zoe DeFazio, Staff Writer

The Campus Ministry and Social Action suite hosted another Slice of Social Justice event on Nov. 11 to shed light on the struggles agricultural workers face. The event illustrated the tales of the Immokalee, a migrant group of workers, and highlighted the dangerous environment agricultural workers face in the United States. Additionally, the event emphasized the need for specific organizations and programs to help protect the rights of these workers.

The Coalition of the Immokalee workers is a group of migrant workers from places like Mexico, Guatemala and Haiti. This group of workers formed in order to address the abusive conditions they faced when working in the fields, such as wage issues, instances of verbal, physical and even sexual abuse. The organization started out with six farmworkers and now has a total of almost 7,000 people. 

During the event, Silvia Perez, a member of the Immokalee workers discussed the wage issues she and many others face. As she described, one can only earn so much after a day of planting and cultivating. For instance, one 32-pound bucket of fresh-picked tomatoes are only worth 65 cents. Perez also describes how inconsistent pay can be.

“It all takes account of the variables,” Perez said. “The variable of how much fruit there is on the plant, the season it is, all of this impacts the number of wages that farm workers make. So for that reason, it’s not really clear, and you cannot put a set wage of what farm workers earn. One day a farm worker can pick over one hundred buckets and the next day they can only be picking a couple of dozen.” 

The Immokalee workers began to organize themselves in this context of abusive conditions, and sub-poverty wages. The main goal was to start a dialogue with the farm owners in order to form a union of peace and explore the possibilities of a difference in treatment.

The Immokalee workers’ Fair Food Program is an alliance among Immokalee workers, farm owners and retail food companies such as Alderman Farms, a farm in Florida that guarantees hospitable working conditions for those who pick fruits and vegetables on such farms.

Popular food-related institutes have agreed to the protocols the Immokalee workers’ Fair Food Program has asked for, such as, McDonald’s, Burger King, Chipotle, Trader joes and even Aramark, an American food service company that has a partnership with Manhattan College.

The Slice of Social justice event with Immokalee worker Silvia Perez had a lasting impression upon the audience. This event was very well organized and received. The students in attendance were in awe of the gut wrenching working conditions these migrant workers face.

Sarah Carr, a freshman here at Manhattan College took to heart what the “Slice of Social Justice” event entailed.

“I just didn’t realize how many issues there were regarding farmworkers in the United States,” Carr said. “I always imagined these things happening in third world countries so I thought that was really interesting. I also think that all these rules set by the Coalition of Immokalee workers’ Fair Food Program are reasonable protocols to follow, so I think boycotting places that refuse to follow them seems like the right thing to do. It just makes sense .”