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Saturday, May 28, 2022

Locals protest for better wages, conditions for tobacco farmworkers

Two dozen protesters stood squinting into the sun at the intersection of Southwest 34th Street and Hull Road Saturday morning, chanting "Justice now!" and holding signs that read "Hasta la Victoria" - "Onward to Victory."

The group was made up of members of the Student Farmworker Coalition, the National Farm Worker Ministry, Youth and Young Adults and the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, including students from UF and the University of Central Florida.

Their cause: justice for tobacco farmworkers in North Carolina who suffer low wages and poor working conditions at the hands of Big Tobacco.

The rally came on the heels of a Student Senate resolution calling for a pay increase and better treatment of Immokalee farmworkers, who pick the tomatoes used by Aramark, UF's food provider.

"Somebody's got to fight for social justice," said UF junior Justin Wooten.

The UF Foundation held its fall board meeting Saturday at the Hilton UF Conference Center. Roberta Perry, a National Farm Worker Ministry community organizer, said it was rumored Susan Ivey would be attending.

Ivey, a UF alumna and UF Foundation board member, is the CEO of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, the second-largest tobacco company in the country.

Perry said Ivey has refused so far to meet with the Farm Labor Organizing Committee to address the plight of the farm workers.

"R.J. Reynolds has a corporate responsibility to monitor what happens in the fields," Perry said. "What we're asking for is a conversation between R.J. Reynolds and the farmworkers."

Although the farmworkers are employed by private growers, R.J. Reynolds buys the tobacco from the farms, making them ultimately responsible for the workers at the bottom, said UCF student Dominique Aulisio.

By demonstrating in front of the board meeting's venue, the protesters said they hoped to show Ivey that farm workers' issues are important and should be recognized by tobacco companies.

"This is definitely a state that is anchored in farm workers' issues," said Lauren Gill, a UCF student and vice president of Youth and Young Adults' Orlando chapter.

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Although Ivey wasn't in attendance at the meeting, the students handed out informational fliers to the board, including UF President Bernie Machen, who told them he would make sure Ivey got a flier.

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