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The Domino Effect: A Brief History of the CIW

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Members of the Coalition for Immokalee Workers protest for farm workers rights in Chicago in 2009.

CREDIT: Flickr / dietpoison

The Coalition for Immokalee Workers has a storied past. The organization has struck deals through its Campaign for Fair Food with national megacorporations like Yum! Brands (the largest restaurant company in the world, Yum! owns Taco Bell, KFC, Pizza Hut and Long John Silver’s), Burger King, and McDonald’s. Here's a brief history of the organization's sucesses:

1993: Formation of the CIW in a “room borrowed from a local church.”

1995: Week-long general strike involving 3,000 farm workers to successfully fight a proposed wage cut, bringing the CIW into the national spotlight for the first time.

1997: Nighttime march to protest the abuse of a particular crew leader in Immokalee; first case of modern-day slavery where two farm-owners were sentenced to 15 years in federal prison for holding more than 400 workers in servitude.

1998: 30-day hunger strike.

1999: Abel Cuello sentenced to 33 months in federal prison on slavery charges for holding about 30 farm workers in two trailers under constant watch to prevent escape.

2000: Successful 234-mile march from Fort Myers to Orlando by the CIW calling for wage increases; formation of the Student/Farmworker Alliance.

2001: Launch of the Boot the Bell campaign against Taco Bell and the Campaign for Fair Food. Jose Tecum is sentenced to nine years in federal prison on slavery and kidnapping charges and Michael Lee sentenced to four years in federal prison and three years supervised release on a slavery conspiracy charge.

2003: CIW holds the Root Cause March, where more than a thousand marchers gathered in Miami to protest the ongoing negotiations regarding the Free Trade Area of the Americas. Students nationwide organize on college campuses to force Taco Bell off campus if it didn’t cooperate with the CIW.

2004: Ramiro and Juan Ramos sentenced to 15 years each in federal prison on slavery and firearms charges, and the were forced to forfeit over $3 million in assets.

2005: Yum Brands!, owner of Taco Bell, agrees to the CIW’s demands; one month later, CIW announces its new campaign against McDonald’s.

2007: McDonald’s agrees to the CIW’s demands; months later, the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange (FTGE) threatens to fine any of its members that sold tomatoes under the terms of the CIW accords. CIW and the Alliance for Fair Food announce a march on Burger King headquarters.

2008: Burger King makes headlines when a spate of malicious Internet postings defaming the CIW and its supporters are traced back to a company executive. Senate hearings on working conditions of Florida tomato pickers exposes harsh mistreatment in the fields and extreme poverty in Immokalee. Burger King, Subway, and Whole Foods agrees to work with the CIW. Cesar and Geovanni Navarrete are sentenced to 12 years in prison on charges of slavery.

2009: Bon Appétit Management Co. and the Compass Group agrees to work with CIW. CIW launches protests at Publix Supermarkets regarding its penny per pound program.

2010: Aramark, Sodexo, Pacific Tomato Growers, the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange, and Six L’s agree to work with the CIW. CIW shifts its focus mainly to the supermarket sector.

Jessica Newman is a staff writer for Campus Progress.

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