Despite opposition, Coalition of Immokalee Workers celebrates 25 years of action

12-20-18 CIW Education_Session_2_thin-1024x408

A training session conducted by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. (Source: CIW)

Dec. 20, 2018, by David Silverberg

On Friday evening, Dec. 21, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) will celebrate its 25th anniversary.

While CIW has struck agreements for fair pricing, wages and labor practices with retail chains as large as Walmart, McDonald’s, Subway, Sodexo and Whole Foods, it has also faced fierce opposition from opponents. That includes Rep. Francis Rooney, who represents Florida’s 19th Congressional District, which stretches from Cape Coral to Marco Island.

According to its website, the CIW “is a worker-based human rights organization internationally recognized for its achievements in the fields of social responsibility, human trafficking, and gender-based violence at work.  Built on a foundation of farmworker community organizing starting in 1993, and reinforced with the creation of a national consumer network since 2000, CIW’s work has steadily grown over more than twenty years… .”

The CIW pursues three programs in particular: The Fair Food Program, a program promoting social responsibility and standards of fair pay; the Anti-Slavery program, which combats exploitative labor practices; and the Campaign for Fair Food, which educates consumers.

Rooney, however, has a different view of CIW. In his view it is a union in all but name that circumvents rules and restrictions governing unions. He opposes all such “worker centers” that engage in what he regards union activities. He specifically denounced CIW in a March 2, 2018 opinion piece titled, “Worker centers: How unions circumvent federal rules” that appeared in the conservative Washington Examiner on March 2, 2018.

“One particularly egregious example is the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, CIW, in Southwest Florida,” wrote Rooney. “The CIW actively engages in secondary boycotts, an activity which is prohibited for unions under the National Labor Relations Act, NLRA. Unions work with the CIW to fund the worker center’s protests, seeking to intimidate companies to increase wages and comply with their other demands. Those who refuse are met with boycotts and other disruptive actions.” He continued:

“The CIW has, for example, organized protests around the country to actively disrupt commerce to try to pressure supermarket and fast food chains to join their Fair Food Program. The group has protested Publix locations in Florida and Trader Joe’s stores in Boston and New York as part of their fight. Further, the CIW launched a disruptive boycott of Wendy’s locations in Florida in response to their refusal to abide by the group’s demands. As a result of this ‘worker center’ loophole, their group gets to act like a union and deploy union tactics and spend union members’ money without abiding by longstanding federal laws.”

To reward Rooney’s stance—or perhaps to inspire him—Publix contributed $8,100 to his 2018 re-election campaign, the second largest contributor after Rooney’s own Rooney Holdings, according to OpenSecrets.org.

During his first term, Rooney worked with Labor Secretary Alex Acosta to oppose worker centers in general.

In a defense of worker centers that appeared on Nov. 20, 2017, in the website On Labor, senior contributor Sharon Block wrote:

“The question that underlies Rep. Rooney’s rhetoric is whether worker centers should be treated as ‘labor organizations’ or not. Although both unions and worker centers provide support for workers’ collective activity in the workplace, there are significant implications for whether those activities meet the definition of a ‘labor organization’ under the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act, a little known but important federal statute that regulates internal democratic processes and public disclosure requirements for unions. Any worker center found to be a ‘labor organization’ would at minimum be required to file with the [Department of Labor’s] Office of Labor Management Standards detailed and burdensome financial disclosure reports and to adopt a formal constitution and by-laws, which must provide for the election of officers – requirements that simply do not reflect the structure and organization of many of today’s worker centers.”

Ultimately, Block wrote, Rooney’s, Acosta’s and others’ opposition to worker centers is “in a way…a backhanded compliment to worker centers.” The “negative attention from Republicans in Congress and others is an implicit acknowledgement of the success that worker centers are having in giving voice to thousands of workers.”

She continued: “Having gone a long way to decimate the traditional labor movement already, it is no wonder that the interests that align with corporations at the expense of workers are now going after the next wave of worker organizations.”

 

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