Tenemos Familias: Migrant Workers For Bernie, Who Didn't Keep Silent
Eight years ago, Bernie Sanders begged Ted Kennedy, then head of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, to let him travel to Immokalee Florida, where migrant farmworkers were picking tomatoes under slavery-like conditions - backbreaking work, starvation wages, inhuman housing and sexual abuse. At a press conference there, Sanders cited "the attacks on human rights and human dignity" he saw and proclaimed, “The American consumer does not want the tomatoes they eat to be picked by workers who are grossly mistreated...No worker in America should be treated the way tomato pickers in Immokalee are being treated." Sanders also invited members of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) to testify before the Senate committee. His advocacy and the workers' ongoing grassroots campaign resulted in drastically improved conditions, including a wage raise workers had been seeking, a code of conduct, and some basic benefits.
The struggle for decent wages and conditions by Immokalee farmworkers is part of an ongoing national Fair Food Program, launched in 2001 with a successful Taco Bell boycott and resulting in the first Fair Food agreement. Its most recent effort is a newly announced boycott of Wendy’s, which has refused to join the Fair Food Program ensuring basic workers' rights that other fast-food giants, including McDonald’s and Burger King, have signed. At a protest last weekend in Palm Beach, home to Wendy's billionaire chairman, Coalition of Immokalee Workers organizer Santiago Perez argued, “The people in this town saw for the first time the faces of people who pick their food...Their reality is tied to our reality."
It is that reality, many Immokalee farmworkers feel, that Bernie Sanders alone recognized, respected and acted on when he visited them eight years ago. Paying it forward, they took part in a moving, Spanish-speaking mini-documentary in support of Sanders, whose campaign released it this week in time for Tuesday's vital Florida primary. The video focuses on the experiences of single mother of three and and Mexican immigrant Udelia Chautla, who echoes Perez' argument that, "(Other people) don’t understand what we have to live through.” Sanders, she adds, does. "Bernie Sanders took interest in the lives of the workers and wanted to hear their struggles,” she says in translation. “Politicians never came to Immokalee. He didn’t keep silent about what he witnessed here."