Yes, Those Are Slaves On The Steps of The Florida Capitol Today

If you happen to wander by the Capitol on your daily stroll around Tallahassee today, yes, that is in fact a truck full of farm workers being beaten into unpaid slave labor right on the steps of the Florida Legislature.

A few months after the latest slavery bust in Immokalee -- where the despicable Navarette brothers earned 12-year prison terms for beating and caging unpaid, undocumented workers from Mexico and Guatemala --  farm workers' advocates say that Gov. Charlie Crist isn't doing much to prevent slavery from ruling the state's tomato business.

Their solution? Re-staging the horrors of farm-labor slavery at the Capitol, where Crist "won't be able to turn his back" on the problem, according to organizers. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers has bused 60 workers to Tallahassee for the protest and gathered 34,000 signatures, Julia Perkins, a group staffer, tells Riptide.

"When we called Crist to ask for a meeting about slave labor, he referred us to the Department of Agriculture, who told us, 'Well, it's just one case a year usually,'" Perkins says. "As if one case a year of slavery is OK."

The group wants Crist to meet with workers and to discuss legislation that might crack down on slavery on Florida farms.

"There hasn't been any response to this abuse from the guy in the executive office," Perkins says. "We're looking for the governor to sit down and meet with these community workers who are here in Tallahassee today."

The problem goes well beyond Immokalee's tomato field's -- a New Times' investigation earlier this year found widespread abuse and under-payment of workers on the snap bean farms around Homestead. And a recent series in Gourmet magazine found that many undocumented workers in the state earn less than $200 a week and face daily abuse from supervisors.

Are you watching, Charlie?

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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink