New College students to travel to ColumBUS, Ohio to fight for farmworker rights

Currently there are ten New College students signed up for a seat on the bus (ColumBUS) that will be leaving to Columbus, Ohio for the national Wendy’s Boycott in order to support the efforts of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW). This is the climax of the Return to Human Rights tour that will happen in late March, which is a good time for students in their Spring Break to join.

The tour is the CIW’s major spring action, the likes of which is done every year, and similar movements such as this have already caused McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway and more to opt into the Fair Food Program (FFP) in the past. However, the Return to Human Rights tour is the longest of its kind as it treads across 15 state borders and stops at 12 different cities from March 16 to 29. Launching from Gainesville, Florida and ending with a march and vigil in Tampa, Florida.

The ColumBUS is a manifestation of the work done by members of Students Targeting Oppressive Powers (STOP) so that there can be transportation from Sarasota to Columbus for the like-minded allies to the cause. Third-year Alex Schelle is one of those members of STOP and assisted in the planning and preparation for the tour bus.

“We hope to learn an incredible model for securing workers’ dignity and grassroots movements in general,” Schelle said. “[The CIW] know what they’re doing and I think we can learn a lot by being involved with them.”

The driving force of the CIW and this tour is to pressure multi-billion dollar companies like Wendy’s to join in the FFP that requests just one extra penny be paid per pound of produce (tomato most commonly) picked by a farmworker in the supply chain of the specific company. This additional penny would double the wages of struggling workers in the agriculture industry. As it stands now, migrant farm workers that pick the food consumers buy in stores work with no shaded resting areas or water and painstakingly labor for unfair pay; making only around $10,000 to $13,000 a year on average.

“People should know about the reality of farmworkers. What their day-to-day life is like and how much they earn because a lot of the time people go to the store and consume without reflecting what workers are going through,” farm worker leader of the CIW Silvia Pérez said as translated from Spanish to English by Patricia Cipollitti, who is a member of the Alliance for Fair Food (AFF).

Wendy’s has evaded responsibility for the issue and has started taking their purchases from Fair Food farms (which are 90 percent of farms) in Florida to Mexico where workers’ rights are not respected. A fundamental aspect of the FFP is that it includes a required human-rights-based Code of Conduct be instilled in the maintenance of farms that grow the tomatoes for the buyers. Once a buyer has committed to the FFP, these farm workers will then enjoy more humane standards of work, but if the buyer chooses to only buy from Mexico for cheaper prices then there’s nothing they can do.

“Workers [in Mexico] have faced wage theft, violence on the job, sexual harassment and assault, child labor and modern day slavery,” Pérez said.

The CIW’s Campaign for Fair Food has already won over 14 of significant buyers, but Publix Supermarkets has given them the greatest resistance. After pressuring them with a seven-day hunger strike, not one official from Publix spoke with any member of the CIW.

“The Publix response specifically has been that this is a labor dispute and that Publix does not get involved in labor disputes between their suppliers and their suppliers’ employees,” Cipollitti said.

Still, Publix is the party that profits and benefits the most from the poverty of farm workers. The Return to Human Rights tour is focused on Wendy’s, but at the same time Publix is still on their agenda and will be pressured further again once the spring action tour is over.

There are still spots available on the ColumBUS and it is likely for those who are interested and register soon to be granted a free seat. It will be leaving early morning from Sarasota on Friday, March 24 to make it for the boycott the subsequent weekend, then returning at 6 a.m. Monday morning on Mar. 27.

“I feel like this is a really good gateway for a lot of people to become involved in activist and political issues that they care about,” second-year Rae Vititoe said.

 

Contact for more information on the ColumBUS:

  • Rachel.Vititoe15@ncf.edu
  • Alexandra.Schelle13@ncf.edu

 

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