Farmworker advocates educated locals in Naples this week about the history of abuse in the fields. They also tried recruiting more people to boycott Wendy’s later this month because of where the fast food chain gets its produce.
Lupe Gonzalo is with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, or CIW. At the Unitarian Universalist Church of Greater Naples, she told a few dozen people that farmworker protections in Florida, and now in six other states, have come a long way.
Back in the 1990s, field workers dealt with abuses like sexual assault and no access to water. They were afraid to report these mistreatments, but now the Fair Food Program exists. It’s an initiative in which farmers, farmworkers and retail food companies voluntarily partner to ensure fair wages and fair treatment. Gonzalo says because of it, farmworkers in Southwest Florida no longer work in fear.
"El cambio es bastante grande porque nos sentimos con más libertad, con más dignidad," says Gonzalo in Spanish.
She says the change in the fields is pretty big because they now have more freedom and more dignity. Food providers like Walmart, Chipotle and McDonalds signed up with the Fair Food Program. But others like Wendy’s and Publix have not.
Gonzalo hopes her talk not only informs the audience members, but also inspires them to join in a boycott of Wendy’s on Thursday, Jan. 18, 2018 across the country, and locally at 14890 6 Mile Cypress Pkwy. That date marks the 20th anniversary of a 30-day hunger strike for farmworkers, known as the National Day of Fasting and Witness. Gonzalo says Wendy’s buys its tomatoes from Mexico, where farmworker abuse is common and unchecked.
Wendy’s spokesperson Heidi Schauer says in an email, “The CIW objects to the fact that we don’t pay fees to their organization. This group orchestrates negative publicity events and distributes misleading information about our company and our suppliers.”
Schauer says more about the company's position on the Fair Food Program is found here.
But spokesperson for CIW partner Alliance for Fair Food Patricia Cipollitti says that Wendy’s quote is actually “misleading” because the produce buyers don’t pay any fees to the coalition. She says the buyers pay an extra penny per pound of picked produce on top of what the market prices are. Those dollars go to the farm owners who distribute that money to the farmworkers.
Kenneth Pottel is a retired school administrator from Massachusetts who lives in Naples about half of the year. He says he came to Lupe Gonzalo's talk Monday night because he sees "tremendous wealth" in Naples, but he also sees many people struggling not too far away. So he wants help the community any way he can.
"I brought a whole bunch of stuff home," he says about various reading materials. "I'm gonna share that and I'll join some of the marches. I'm gonna do what I can. We'll donate some money-- we already have, so whatever else I can do."