Slavery among Florida's tomato pickers

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52 Responses to “Slavery among Florida's tomato pickers”

  1. Teresa Nielsen Hayden / Community Manager says:

    Anonymous @44: You may be remembering Gary Paulsen’s memoirs, if he wrote any.

    Takuan, the easiest way to make a slave is to strand someone in a foreign country, take away their passport, beat them a few times, and tell them that no matter who they turn to, they’re going to be in the wrong: You’re in the country illegally. You’re just a hooker. You’re a criminal. Nobody’s going to believe you. Try anything and you’ll be in so much trouble you’ll wish you were back. It’s a standard slavetaking move.

    I find Tom Hale’s story frighteningly plausible.

    Want to know the difference between 1850 and 2009 as far as slavery is concerned? There are a lot more slaves now, and they’re much cheaper.

  2. Takuan says:

    yep, that’s what still frequently happens to foreign women in Japan who took a “hostessing” job.

  3. Takuan says:

    ever see El Norte?

  4. Tom Hale says:

    I think this is going on in a lot of places. About 10 years ago, one of my coworkers was driving alone through Louisiana at night. He was pulled over by some county Sheriff for speeding (he says he wasn’t) and was taken to their local jail. The next day he was locked up in the back of a truck and was driven to a farm out in the middle of nowhere. One other prisoner was with him. They were both put to work on the farm joining many other “prisoners.”

    Lucky for my friend, his wife drove along the same route the next day looking for him and saw his truck behind the sheriff dept bldg. She went inside and asked about her husband, they claimed they hadn’t seen him and didn’t know anything about him. She pointed out his truck behind the station. In a few hours someone went to the farm and returned him. He believes to this day that if his wife hadn’t seen his truck he would have been enslaved on that farm.

  5. Chang says:

    Slavery’s been going strong in the south still. Try the sugarcane industry for one. Sad but true.

  6. jasonq says:

    Here in Nebraska there are numerous large greenhouse operations that grow pretty good-for-store-bought tomatoes year-round. Local supermarkets sell them.

    I have to imagine such operations are in other states as well.

    I know where they come from, and that they didn’t get trucked cross-country to get to me.

  7. Halloween Jack says:

    Waiting for a former BB guest blogger to come along and say that he picked tomatoes for a day and doesn’t see any need for union representation, and besides, there’s always vocational school.

  8. Phikus says:

    The secret agenda of right-wing immigration policies is to create the climate in which this is allowed to occur with a nod and a wink. It is why blustery xenophobic “immigration reform” always fails, because they would be cutting off their noses despite their faces.

  9. marissangel says:

    it’s always amazing to me, regardless of anything else, what evil people so readily do to other people. those people cannot, in my book, claim to be human, in any respect.

  10. Takuan says:

    so we eat local instead, but what do these people do for work then?

  11. Teresa Nielsen Hayden / Community Manager says:

    The “hostessing job” scam happens everywhere.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Something does not add up.

    “For two and a half years, beginning in April 2005, Mariano Lucas Domingo, along with several other men, was held as a slave at that address. He expected to earn about $200 a week in the fields.

    Over the years, Navarrete and members of his extended family deprived Lucas of $55,000. ”

    Even if he worked every week for 2.5 years, at $200 a week, the maximum he could have earned wold be $26000. So how could Navarrete deprive Lucas of over $55000?!?!?

  13. Anonymous says:

    @1
    Yeah, but what if local for you IS in Florida?

  14. zuzu says:

    Would this have still happened if immigration weren’t criminalized?

  15. iopha says:

    This reminds of me Olivia Butler’s all-too prophetic novel of societal disintegration “The Parable of the Sower,” where this kind of slavery is re-instated in exchange for false ‘security’ in violent, difficult times.

    Although I’m sure in this case it’s an aberration, and not the shape of things to come.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Took him two whole years to figure out he should leave?

  17. zuzu says:

    I also will go 250 miles to the plains of colorado to purchase local veggies this summer.

    250 miles away doesn’t sound very “local”.

  18. dculberson says:

    I find it extra disturbing that two commenters (so far) on that site have laid as much blame on the “illegals” as on those that are doing the exploiting. As if a slave is as much to blame for his situation as those that enslave him. That’s an even worse indictment of our culture than the existence of slavery alone.

    This sort of thing is so overwhelming and sad that it feels beyond the reach of a normal American like me to help. But it’s going on in my country, and it has got to stop.

  19. zuzu says:

    Great movie

    I just remembered: Woman in the Dunes

  20. Takuan says:

    yep Phikus, everywhere around the world too. “Guest Workers”. Right.

  21. mdh says:

    Even a little power can be absolutely corrupting.

  22. brianpayneyvp says:

    It’s important to note, as Zikzak brought up, that farmworkers are organizing successfully against this type of abuse in the fields. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) is a grassroots farmworker organization based in Southwest Florida made up of Mexican, Guatemalan and Haitian workers. The CIW has partnered with the USDOJ to uncover and prosecute 7 cases of modern-day slavery in the fields of Florida in the past 10 years, freeing over 1,000 workers.

    The CIW is also organizing to get to the root of the problem by forcing the largest buyers of Florida tomatoes (Taco Bell, McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway, etc) to sit down with farmworkers in order to establish a code of conduct that guarantees better wages and working conditions for the workers who produce their tomatoes. So far the CIW has succeeded in getting all of the aforementioned companies to sign onto the agreement, and is now targeting foodservice providers (like Aramark and Sodexho), and supermarket chains (like WalMart and Kroger).

    For more info about how you can get involved in the campaigns, check out the CIW website (www.ciw-online.org) as well as the Student / Farmworker Alliance website (www.sfalliance.org)

  23. zikzak says:

    Slavery in Florida’s fields is, unfortunately, nothing new. Cases have been exposed many times over the years. There are many ways people are compelled to work in the tomato-picking industry. Some are threatened with violence, some with deportation, some are even controlled with drugs.

    Most of them, though, are compelled to work simply because the pay is so incredibly low that there’s no way they’ll ever be able to “move up a rung”. Their wages cover their food, clothes and shelter, and that’s it.

    The Coalition of Immokalee Workers is an organization of tomato-pickers who fights these practices by organizing workers themselves as well as supporters all over the country to put pressure on the biggest tomato buyers to demand basic labor standards from their suppliers.

    It’s a simple strategy, really, but pretty novel and very effective. The tomato-growers (field owners) won’t recognize unions, so instead the pickers are trying to apply pressure on the demand side, telling people not to buy from the growers unless they adopt basic labor standards and fair pay. So far, they’ve successfully pressured McDonalds, Taco Bell, Burger King, and other major tomato buyers into supporting their demands when buying tomatoes.

    The CIW depends heavily on support from non-tomato-pickers. Much of the pressure that’s changed the minds of those big chains has come from ordinary folks publicly boycotting the targeted business until the business agreed to change its tomato purchasing policy.

    http://www.ciw-online.org/ has information on how you can participate in their campaigns. Since they target the biggest buyers, it’s almost guaranteed to be a chain which has a presence wherever you are. You can have a big impact on ending slavery in the US just by passing out fliers in front of a grocery store or fast food joint and letting your friends know not to do business with them.

  24. Anonymous says:

    “He believes to this day that if his wife hadn’t seen his truck he would have been enslaved on that farm.”

    Did he call the FBI, or just leave the other slaves behind?

  25. The Lizardman says:

    @4 We are a blame the victim culture (look at rape) so while horribly wrong it isn’t surprising. My personal theory is to place the blame on our cultural reigious heritage which tells us we are all horible sinners and when bad things happen it is because we deserve it for being unclean in god’s eyes. You could also draw a cosmic karmic line but its less popular to bash karma despite it being as equally a dingbat theory.

  26. Takuan says:

    no need to look beyond how monkeys treat each other.

  27. Sceadugenga says:

    According to the newspaper Naples Daily News (http://www.naplesnews.com/news/2008/dec/19/immokalee-brothers-get-prison-sentence-aliens-case/) , the Navarrete brothers received 12-year federal prison sentences for this and must pay restitution.

    While that is a good start, it is attacking the branches, not the root of the problem.

  28. Takuan says:

    @28 a very good question.

  29. pjk says:

    Hold on. So Navarrete, an illegal immigrant from Mexico, enslaved Lucas, an illegal immigrant from Guatemala? Interesting. From what I’ve heard, Mexicans treat Guatemalans like Americans treat Mexicans, and everyone shits on Haitians as much as possible. Nice world.

  30. danturner says:

    #39 posted by zuzu: I always read Woman in the Dunes as an exercise in existential thought, drawing a metaphor that the difference between the protagonists enslavement and a normal life is one of degree, not of kind. Not a metaphor I’d accept for the treatment of these workers.

  31. dbarak says:

    Don’t forget that Taco Bell and Burger King refused for the longest time to pay ONE CENT more per pound picked by these workers. They finally relented. Fucking bastards.

  32. ecodelsol says:

    this past 6 months, i have created an herb garden in my mudroom and also have started hydroponic lettuce growing in my living. both projects use grow lights. i am, for the first time in my life, planning a vegetable garden in my backyard. I also will go 250 miles to the plains of colorado to purchase local veggies this summer. It’s so cool to grow lettuce in your living room and use it for salads in February. Fresh Lettuce. mostly loose leaf types. la la la

    i have a fear that someday soon there is going to be a shortage of produce to purchase at our local super markets. start growin’ now

  33. Takuan says:

    so start an Ethical Food crusade directed at the fast food chains.

  34. Takuan says:

    shortage of choice, certainly, food rationing, probably not yet.

  35. ROSSINDETROIT says:

    @ Tak:

    ever see El Norte?

    Great movie

  36. Brainspore says:

    @ marissangel #28:

    it’s always amazing to me, regardless of anything else, what evil people so readily do to other people. those people cannot, in my book, claim to be human, in any respect.

    Ah, but therein lies a paradox, because thinking of other people as “non-human” is one of the quickest paths to evil.

    Hitler was human. Stalin was human. Those guys in Darfur who rape children to death in front of their mothers are human. Pretending that atrocities are only perpetrated by monsters is a surefire way to make sure we don’t notice the next one until it’s too late.

  37. zuzu says:

    I find it extra disturbing that two commenters (so far) on that site have laid as much blame on the “illegals” as on those that are doing the exploiting.

    Were those posts deleted? Between Takuan, myself, and Iopha, I’m unclear which commenters you’re referring to. Or perhaps you mean comments on the article’s site?

    This sort of thing is so overwhelming and sad that it feels beyond the reach of a normal American like me to help. But it’s going on in my country, and it has got to stop.

    We need to separate immigration from citizenship. Citizenship provides privileges such as voting and social benefits, which may be exercised with proof of citizenship (and responsibilities, such as taxes). But when freedom of movement and trade are restricted on the basis of citizenship, desperate people are willing to take great risks to circumvent those restrictions on their autonomy to survive and provide for their families.

    Citizenship used in the latter sense is merely a covert form of classism.

    “Immigration reform” needs to allow free movement of labor as well as capital across national borders, and not interfere with mutually beneficial employment of non-citizens.

    Citizenship does not make you any more entitled to a job than non-citizens. Try traveling and working abroad where you’re the non-citizen, if you think otherwise.

  38. Teller says:

    #8: Thanks for the link completing this story. In addition to the 12-year sentences and nearly half a million in restitution, it sounds like the abused workers were also made lawful American citizens. Took three years, but some justice got done.

  39. Takuan says:

    broke my heart, that film. The farm slaves near me just have their passports taken and are paid a portion of what they rent for with one of their countrymen skimming the rest. Kennels to live in, rusty vans to deliver them, pesticides to work in etc. etc. Their owners know enough to always stay just inside the serious parts of the law.

  40. zuzu says:

    it sounds like the abused workers were also made lawful American citizens. Took three years, but some justice got done.

    That’s less than half the time of the best case scenario for current legal immigration.

  41. djturtlep says:

    Horrific what these immigrants must go through. All in the name of a better life. It makes you wonder about the bastards that haven’t been caught yet. How many people are they torturing you read this.

  42. Teller says:

    Zuzu: I meant 3 years from the start of the abuse to the court’s sentencing.

  43. jjasper says:

    Well, yes, drug wars leads to drug dealers abusing drug users. It’s not blaming immigrants to point out that the laws create situations ripe for abuse, even among immigrants. After all, who better to take advantage?

  44. UptownGreen says:

    @11- “so start an Ethical Food crusade directed at the fast food chains.”

    It’s already out there- it’s called your local farmer’s market.

    When I buy tomatoes at the market, I know who the grower is, who picked them, and about how much they are making (roughly 75% of the money I hand them). Granted, I don’t get tomatoes in January (except what I preserve myself), but MY tomatoes taste of tomato, not blood and petroleum, and they are DELICIOUS.

  45. Teller says:

    Takuan: If you live in the US, report ‘em. http://www.ufw.org/

  46. Takuan says:

    Zuzu, DCulberson was referring to comments IN the article site

  47. Takuan says:

    trust me, they’re regularly in court etc. and a year later, nothing much seems to change. If you want to buy local food, it’s compounded by is it ethical local food? Never mind organic.

  48. Anonymous says:

    Reminds me of the book by Gary Paulsen about a boy who runs away from home, works on a farm much like this one, and then joins a carnival.

    The name escapes me though.

  49. zuzu says:

    I find it extra disturbing that two commenters (so far) on that site have laid as much blame

    Missed that the first time; thanks Takuan.

  50. dculberson says:

    Zuzu, yes, I was talking about on the gourmet.com page linked to in Cory’s article.

    I agree that immigration and citizenship should be more clearly separated in people’s minds. The jobs that people like Lucas are “taking” are so far removed from the jobs that are being lost that it shouldn’t even be an issue. It’s just an easy scapegoat for a segment of our population to pin their angst upon.

  51. Teller says:

    Rest your conscience. Cheetos!

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