• Artwork
  • Artwork
  • Artwork

Coalition of Immokalee Workers

The first non-labor union partner

Whether it was supporting the historic 234-mile march from Ft. Myers, FL to Orlando or activating the faith community nationwide in support of the Taco Bell boycott, the NFWM has been an active partner with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.  Unlike many of NFWM’s farm worker partners, the CIW is a worker-based human rights organization, not a union, and was NFWM’s first non-union partner. CIW was formed in 1993 as a small group of workers who met to discuss how to better their community and their lives. Initially they met weekly in a room borrowed from a local church. 

“Endorsing them [CIW] and working with them was a huge conceptual shift because they exclusively do not do union organizing. They are not a union,” said Sam Trickey, NFWM Board Member and former Board President. “There was considerable contention among farm worker organizations [about this], but what we had to do was change our ideas about what constituted legitimate farm worker progress. They [CIW] were working in states with no labor laws so they were clever and came up with the Fair Food Program.  We had to think about what it meant to be related to them. We had to think about working with an organization that wasn’t doing what we had been advocating for years.”

“It was Bert Perry who knew of the Coalition and got us involved with them initially for the march [from Ft. Myers, FL to Orlando],” remembers Virginia Nesmith, Executive Director of NFWM at the time of the formation of the partnership.

In the early-2000s, NFWM mobilized people of faith to support CIW’s boycott of Taco Bell and their cross country “Truth Tour” to Taco Bell’s headquarters in Anaheim, CA. CIW leveraged their success with Taco Bell into a landmark campaign against the largest fast food company in the world, McDonald’s. NFWM continued its partnership with CIW, organizing actions and pickets outside McDonald’s restaurants across the nation and at the headquarters in Oak Brook, IL.

“I remember being at a McDonalds with Olgha [Sierra Sandman] outside in the bitter cold in Chicago,” recalled Virginia. “They appreciated everything the Ministry did.”

Once McDonald’s and CIW reached an agreement in 2007, other fast food restaurants and supermarkets quickly signed on to the CIW’s Fair Food Program, which began as a covenant between the CIW and the Florida Tomato Growers. The program’s goal is to create better wages, better working conditions, and higher standards through strengthened partnerships between workers, growers, and buyers. 

Skip to content