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Workers call for watermelon farmer protections following deadly bus crash

Watermelon farms aren’t in CIW’s fair food program - which means they do not have program protection for things like safe transportation.
Posted at 5:22 PM, May 15, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-15 17:26:10-04

IMMOKALEE, Fla. — Silvia Perez rode a bus very similar to the one involved in Tuesday's deadly crash when she worked in tomato fields.

Now at the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, she helps others working in the field.

"Vemos que nosotros tenemos mucho trabajo todavía por por delante para que esas industrias pequeñas van a ser parte del programa, pero por ahorita no están fuera del programa, están desprotegidos"// "We see that we still have a lot of work ahead of us so that these small industries are going to be part of the program, but for now they are not outside the program. They are unprotected," Perez tells FOX 4.

By smaller industries, she means watermelon farms.

That’s where the people on the bus in Marion County worked.

RELATED: Driver in deadly Central Florida migrant bus crash arrested for DUI manslaughter

But watermelon farms aren’t in CIW’s fair food program, which means they do not have the protection for things like safe transportation.

“Esas compañías tienen esa responsabilidad de tener el transporte seguro" // "Companies have that responsibility to have safe transportation,” she tells FOX 4.

The coalition says they are providing support to everyone impacted by the crash, and tell FOX 4 they want watermelon farms to have safer conditions.

The Farmworkers Association of Florida echoes that notion.

Ernesto Ruiz works with the group and tells us he spoke to the brother of one of the bus crash victims.

“Terrified. Panicked. He hadn't heard from his brother since the previous day,” Ruiz says.

Ruiz tells FOX 4’s Lehigh Acres Community Correspondent Ella Rhodes that the group on the bus was an H2A crew from Mexico.

H2A refers to a non-immigrant visa that employs people from another country for 10 months.

Ruiz says watermelon workers often work in tough conditions, including wage theft and human trafficking.

"Let's please pause for a second and put ourselves in their shoes," he said. "They’re leaving their kids behind, their families behind, their language behind, their foods behind, their mothers behind. They're coming here to work because they lack economic opportunities in their home countries.”

That’s why the Farm Workers Association say they are raising money to help the families impacted by the crash.