Students live migrants' suffering
By ERIN LaRUFFA
Inspired by a spring break Center for Social Concerns [CSC] seminar, a group of Notre Dame students held a teach-in Thursday night to raise awareness about the plight of migrant farm workers in the United States.
Over spring break, these 16 Notre Dame students spent a week in Florida on the CSC's Migrant Experiences Seminar in Immokalee, Fla.
As part of the seminar experience, the group picked oranges along with farm workers.
"Migrants line up around five in the morning," said junior Julie Hodek, who attended the seminar. She added that workers do not know if they will actually be able to get work each day.
"We experienced that too — not knowing if we would get work or not," she said.
Students also learned that the work was difficult and they pay was low, they said.
"We only picked for half a day, and it was very tiring," said Hodek.
However, the Notre Dame students were much better off than the other workers.
In fact, one seminar participant, junior Brian Noon, referred to the migrant farm workers as "indentured servants."
"We had the luxury of stopping for water," said Hodek, who added that typical workers rarely take breaks because part of the wages are based on how many bushels they pick.
After four hours of picking oranges, all 16 students added their wages together. Combined, they had earned only $54.
"That just tells you how little the pay is for how hard you work," Hodek said.
Seminar participants also realized how poor overall living conditions were.
"I kept having to remind myself, `OK, I'm in the middle of the United States,'" said Hodek. "Migrants don't have any benefits. They don't have any health care. They're not protected by any of the national labor laws."
Seminar participant, junior Joanna Garcia, said that these workers are often not able to afford to feed themselves off of work that helps feed the rest of the country.
The teach-in was just the beginning, however, for group's action back at Notre Dame. The group is planning to protest a local Taco Bell on April 8.
Other groups around the country, particularly in the south, have already begun protesting Taco Bell chains. Protest organizers across the country are appealing to people in their teens and twenties because this demographic represents a significant part of Taco Bell's market.
Protesters chose to target Taco Bell, even though the company is not the farm workers' direct employer. But Taco Bell is a major buyer of tomatoes from the workers' actually employer, 6 Ls Packing Co.
Noon explained that companies like Taco Bell hire middlemen that exploit workers, and protests on a national level are intended to force Taco Bell to encourage those middlemen to pay workers more.
"We don't want anyone to think Taco Bell is evil … It's more that a lot of [corporations] don't really see how workers are exploited," he said.
"You show up at the dining hall, and there are all these tomatoes," said sophomore Chris Rupar, who also participated in the seminar. "We're asking you to be intelligent consumers … Without the undocumented workers, we wouldn't have the tomatoes."
Such undocumented workers are a significant part of U.S. food production, Rupar added.
For the seminar participants, their experience reinforced their understanding of how migrant workers, many living as undocumented immigrants in the U.S., have little political power. And for that reason, students believe it is important to protest Taco Bell.
"We're the people with the political power, with the voice to speak," said Hodek.
All News Stories for Friday, March 30, 2001