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April 1, 2016

National Council of Churches Shines Light on Disciples Partner Farm Worker Organization

Last week, the NCC Executive Committee traveled to Imokalee, Florida to meet with the Coalition of Imokalee Workers (CIW) on the eve of their Workers' Voice Tour to raise awareness of the plight of those who pick most of the nation's tomatoes.

As they travel in several caravans this month, they will stay in and be hosted by local churches. A major focus on this year's tour will be to apply pressure to Wendy's, a fast food chain with more than 6,000 restaurants.

Wendy's continues to refuse to join the Fair Food Program and even to talk with the Coalition. Wendy's CEO, Emil Brolick, was president of Taco Bell when that company signed an agreement with CIW which came as a result of a boycott endorsed by the National Council of Churches.

The NCC has long stood by farmworkers in their struggle for justice. More than 40 years ago, the NCC joined the boycott of iceberg lettuce and table grapes as a means of supporting Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers and, more recently, the NCC supported the National Farm Worker Ministry and the Farm Labor Organizing Committee in the long effort to secure better pay and working conditions for farmworkers in North Carolina.

The Fair Food Program, which now includes McDonald's, Subway, Wal-Mart, Burger King, Trader Joe's, and other major corporations, has made a discernible, positive difference in the lives of Florida farmworkers.

Among other things, women in the fields are no longer subject to sexual harassment, wages have increased, and pregnant women are no longer exposed to poisonous chemicals. Still, life remains hard for farmworkers. Wages remain abysmal, the work is backbreaking, and exploitation is rife. Just a couple of blocks from CIW's offices is a home where farmworkers were once kept chained as slaves in a rental truck.

The Coalition of Imokalee Workers is not a union; rather it is a human rights movement aimed at supporting farmworkers as they attempt to gain better pay and working conditions. Our executive committee attended one of the fabled evening meetings at CIW’s offices where more than 100 workers heard about the Worker's Voice Tour, shared hopes and dreams, and participated in skits aimed at provoking discussion about the realities they face.

It is important, now, for member communions of the NCC to call for Wendy’s—and Publix supermarkets, as well—to join the Fair Food Program and to express solidarity with CIW. Beyond that, we need to be more aware of food justice issues. Food is, after all, quite cheap in the United States and a reason for that is because farmerworkers are underpaid. The rest of us benefit from that reality of exploitation.

Scripture is clear on our responsibility to care for the sojourner, the vulnerable, the poor, and the powerless.

Yours in Christ,

Jim Winkler
President and General Secretary

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