The Coalition of Immokalee Farmworkers, known for their hunger strikes and protest tactics against Naples-area growers, has hit the big time for protestors by drawing a complaint from a national business group called Worker Center Watch.
The center just sent the following letter to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi:
For nearly 15 years the Immokalee-based Coalition of Immokalee Workers, through its Fair Food Campaign, has made allegations against well-known corporate food service, restaurant and grocery brands – including Florida-based Burger King and Publix Supermarkets – that failure to join its “penny-per-pound” Fair Food Program makes them complicit in abusive labor practices alleged to take place in the agricultural fields of Florida. Though the accused brands have no direct supervision of farmworkers in the state, many have chosen to signonto the CIW’s program, if for no other reason than to remove them as a CIW protest targets.
During the course of its years of protesting across Florida, the CIW’s Fair Food Program as well as its own bank account swelled with millions of dollars from corporate program members and foundations such as Kresge, Kellogg, Ford and others. By its own estimate, over $11 million has been paid out from the Fair Food Program fund since 2011, purportedly to the 30,000 tomato pickers it estimates are working in the fields of Florida at any given time. Meanwhile, tax compliance documents indicate the CIW uses its own substantial funds to teach theater production for “leadership development.” Yet for several years once the program began being funded, agricultural workers were not receiving any of the funds earmarked by corporate participants. How funds were used from 2005 to 2011 remains in question. In fact, there is a series of class action lawsuits underway on behalf of those workers to recoup bonus pay that was promised to them.
Worker Center Watch is dedicated to exposing the oftendisingenuous and potentially nefarious actions of labor activist worker centers, such as the CIW. We believe the motivation of the CIW does not liewith the workers it claims to represent. As with other worker centers such as Restaurant Opportunities Center, Fast Food Forward and Retail Action Project, the CIW appears to be more concerned with tarnishing the image of well-known brands and extorting money from them than actually improving the plight of U.S. workers.
Given the great uncertainty as to whether these funds were properly dispersed, as committed through CIW’s own promotion of the Fair Food Program, we urge you to investigate any occurrences of deceptive trade practices. Further, with the CIW’s overt efforts to bargain directly with employers on behalf of workers, we urge a close examination of any labor relations practices that may have been, or continue to be, violated by this group.
The CIW has built quite a record of making slanderous allegations against various restaurant, grocery and food service companies operating in the state of Florida. For the sake of the rule of law, as well as the positive image of Florida’s agriculture industry, transparency and justice must be brought to the actions of CIW.
Thank you for your attention to this matter.
Worker Center Watch
cc: The Honorable Adam Putnam, Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services