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The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) began organizing in 1993 as a small group of workers meeting weekly to discuss how to better their community and their lives. Combining three community-wide work stoppages with intense public pressure – including an unprecedented month-long hunger strike by six members in 1998 and a historic 234-mile march from Fort Myers to Orlando in 2000 – the CIW’s early organizing ended over 20 years of declining wages in the tomato industry. While continuing to organize for fairer wages, the CIW also turned its attention to attacking involuntary servitude. Over the past 15 years, nine major investigations and federal prosecutions have freed over 1,200 Florida farmworkers from captivity and forced labor, leading one U.S. Attorney to call these fields “ground zero for modern slavery.” The CIW was key in the discovery, investigation and prosecution of seven of those operations. Through these efforts CIW helped pioneer anti-trafficking work in the U.S., contributing to the formation of the Department of Justice Anti-Trafficking Unit and the passage of the landmark Trafficking Victims Protection Act in 2000.
The CIW forges toward a future of livable wages and modern labor relations in Florida’s fields.