Immokalee Workers reach agreement with major tomato growers

11/16/10 Seán Kinane
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Today the Coalition of Immokalee Workers scored a major victory in their fight for fair wages and improved working conditions. Gerardo Reyes, a member of the farmworkers’ group, says they have signed an agreement with the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange.

"The announcement today was between the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange. This is a really important announcement because it's basically an agreement that's the sign of collaboration with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in order to implement the code of conduct and the pass through of the penny per pound that are the supplement to the campaign for fair food."

Give us a little bit of background about why you were asking for a penny per pound more, what were you earning originally and what might this mean then for people who pick tomatoes in Florida?

"Well, basically, there are 9 corporations that are participating with us. Among them, McDonalds, Burger King, Subway, and a few others from the food providers, among them is Compass, Sodexho, and Aramark. What we've been asking for during this campaign is a direct payment of a penny more per pound coming from the big buyers for the tomatoes. That would be passed on to their buying system, to be passed through the payroll of the companies that are willing to participate with the CIW. That would then be translated into a bonus at the end of the week for each worker in each participating company. What that means is an increase ... And the more food retailers that buy tomatoes from Florida join in. So we are as part of that continuing with the campaign and focusing on Publix here in this part of the country and also on a national level there campaigns going on focusing on Kroger also ... which are Giant and Stop 'n Shop and also focusing on Trader Joe's. So it's basically a supermarket campaign right now. Focusing on the supermarket industry more than anything. In terms of the code of conduct, which is an essential part of the demand, what that means within the companies is a new system that would be based on a complaint based mechanism that would look into identifying the problem within the industry with the participation of the industry and the workers from within that will identify the problems that exist and eliminating them we would work together, in partnership to eliminate those problems from the agricultural industry. It gives workers a voice without being afraid of retaliation for reporting abuses. And these mechanisms are intended to address those abuses with direct consequences for those who are committing them and then that could take many different shapes but basically it's aiming to eliminate that. With that in place we will cede no ground for labor ... to continue to flourish because that system basically put a lot of focus on the actual labor practices."

Finally, Gerardo Reyes with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, when this gets implemented, how many tomato workers in Florida will still be operating under the old rules, versus how many will be covered then, under these new protections for pay and for working conditions?

"The Florida Tomato Growers Exchange represents 90 percent of the tomato production in Florida. 90 percent of the national level of the tomato industry. This is going to be refined within a working group that's going to be composed by East Coast Growers and Packers, Pacific Tomato Growers ... and a couple of other small farms that produce organic tomatoes ... The codes of conduct are going to be implemented in the entire industry but the functioning, in order to create the model is going to be primarily focusing on these companies that I mentioned before but applied to the entire industry. And then in the next season it's going to be fully implemented and verified and mandatory in the entire industry as we develop and refine the system."

Coalition of Immokalee Workers

Previous WMNF coverage of Immokalee farmworkers

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