Today we all went back to the CIW headquarters for a more in-depth presentation and discussion on what it is that they actually do. Wilson told us more about some of the conditions that they have gotten changed over the years and gave us a better picture of how things used to be compared with the way things are now. He also added that many of the workers are still afraid that these new benefits will not always be around, they are afraid they are going to lose them. Simple things that we take for granted such as water breaks, shade, and not working when there is lightning did not become a reality here until the coalition started its work. Wilson told us about the turning point among the workers, was when a 17 year old boy was beaten in the fields because he asked for some water. The workers all stood together, boycotting that crew boss’s bus the next day and claiming that in doing that to one of them, they had done it to all of them. The coalition has come a long way since then and there have been many changes. They no longer have to catch buses to the fields as early as they did before, they have shade and are provided with water, and they now have time cards so that the bosses cannot steal their time. Wilson also showed us the proper way to lift a bucket of tomatoes onto your shoulder and we all took turns trying to lift the 32 lb. bucket.
I actually worked on a farm in North Carolina last summer, so I knew a little bit about the lives of farm workers before I came to Immokalee. There is, however, a great difference between what I see on that much smaller scale farm, and what takes place here every day. Wilson drew a pyramid showing the power chain, from the corporations at the top to the workers at the bottom. In between there are companies who buy produce, from the ranchers who own the farms, and the crew bosses who actually work in the fields and hire the workers on a day to day basis. At the farm that I worked on, the crew boss brought workers from Florida and they were there for the whole summer. The family-owned farm sells produce to a buyer and they sell it to supermarkets. They abide by all of the national labor and pesticide use regulations and we are all paid by the hour, starting at minimum wage. After seeing the way that workers live and work here, I now see that the conditions at home are fairly ideal, but most Americans would not want to live in those conditions either.
-Nicole Rauscher- Sophmore