CIW OPINION ON RAMOS SENTENCING
From the Palm Beach Post (11/21/2003)
"Three men convicted of forcing 700 workers into slave labor in Florida's citrus groves drew prison sentences totaling 34 years and nine months Wednesday in addition to forfeiting $3 million in proceeds from their immigrant smuggling operation.
The presiding federal judge also criticized the citrus industry, calling the slavery convictions a sign of the larger problems in Florida's second-largest industry.
'Others at a higher level of the fruit picking industry seem complicit in one way or another with how these activities occur, ' US District Judge K. Michael Moore said while handing down the sentences. 'I think there is a broader interest out there the government should look into as well...'"
Those are the first three paragraphs of the Thursday, Nov. 21, front page Palm Beach Post article announcing the sentencing of the three Lake Placid, FL, crewleaders found guilty earlier this summer of modern-day slavery, a case in which the Coalition of Immokalee Workers played a key role.
The Lake Placid case is the sixth major modern-day slavery case to be brought to justice in South Florida in the past five years (the CIW has been involved in five of those cases, discovering, investigating, and assisting in the prosecution of the operations).
While we are pleased with the lengthy sentences and believe that they will send a strong message to the crewleader community, we also agree with Judge Moore in one important sense: until the agricultural industry as a whole is held accountable for these gross violations of their workers' human rights, slavery in Florida's fields will not end.
The backward, oppressive state of agricultural labor relations in Florida today is the fertile ground in which modern-day slavery is allowed to take root and flourish. If we are to be serious about eliminating peonage, then it is time, finally, that Florida's major corporate growers recognize their workers as partners in the industry and sit at the table with workers' representatives to negotiate more modern, more humane working conditions.
But we will take the judge's concerns one step further. Until the corporations that profit from cheap Florida produce -- corporations like Taco Bell -- are obliged to acknowledge their role in keeping wages and working conditions in Florida fields as miserable as they are, farm labor conditions will not improve.
The fast-food industry has grown almost overnight into a multi-billion dollar, multi-national industry, thanks, in large part, to low-cost ingredients that have allowed chains like Taco Bell, McDonald's, and Burger King to control costs and plow their profits back into advertising and expansion. Today, the key to solving the seemingly insolvable problem of farmworker exploitation lies in the vast resources of the fast-food industry, the tiniest portion of which could immeasurably improve the lives of millions of farmworkers and their families, from Florida to California.
Convictions and harsh sentences for crewleaders who enslave their workers are necessary today because corporate growers and their multi-billion dollar corporate clients continue to demand cheap labor, without any concern given to how labor costs are controlled. But prosecution alone is not the solution. That is why the Taco Bell boycott is so important. Only by making those who profit most from farmworkers' exploited labor pay the true cost of harvesting this country's crops will we be able, once and for all, to close the book on America's "Harvest of Shame".
If you don't believe us, just ask Judge Moore.