Organic Consumers Association

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U.S. Senators Call for Pay Increase for Tomato Pickers & Other Farmworkers

A day after one of the biggest slavery indictments in Southwest Florida history, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., visited the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and called for Senate hearings on farm conditions.

"This is not acceptable in the United States of America," Sanders said. "Consumers do not want their tomatoes picked by workers who are so grossly mistreated. We want congressional hearings so people can understand how slavery can take place here."

Sanders was joined by best-selling author Eric Schlosser ("Fast Food Nation") and Noelle Damico, national coordinator of the 2.3 million-member Presbyterian Church's Campaign for Fair Food. They urged Burger King to agree to a penny-per-pound rate increase for farm workers, as McDonald's and Yum! Brands (parent corporation of Taco Bell) have, following a campaign by the Coalition.

Sanders, a member of the Senate labor committee, released two letters: one to Burger King CEO John Chidsey, one to Reggie Brown, executive vice-president of Florida Tomato Growers Exchange also signed by Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio and committee chairman Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.

Both letters urged participation in the rate increase, saying workers' pay has not gone up in two decades, that slavery cases have been brought successfully against people in the tomato industry and that workers' living conditions in Southwest Florida are "among the worst in the agriculture industry."

Sanders said the slavery case is just the extreme end of a spectrum of potential exploitation farm workers face.

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