The campaign of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) to bring better wages and improved working conditions to Florida’s tomato fields took a big step forward this week.
Whole Foods Market announced that two of the largest organic growers in Florida—Lady Moon Farms and Alderman Farms—have signed agreements to implement the principles of the “penny-per-pound” program to improve wages for tomato harvesters. That means workers on those farms will get 72 cents to 77 cents for every 32-pound bucket of tomatoes they pick, up from 40 cents to 45 cents.
These agreements effectively break a stalemate that began nearly two growing seasons ago when the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange threatened to levy a $100,000 fine on any member who participated in the CIW agreements. At that time, two Florida growers who had been passing on the penny-per-pound increase under a 2007 agreement with Taco Bell agreement ceased doing so.
Says Lucas Benitez of the CIW:
For nearly two seasons, the campaign’s promise of fair wages for Florida’s farm workers has been held hostage by the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange. Today, however, the higher wages and fairer conditions we have fought for will begin to reach the workers who so clearly deserve them, thanks to the leadership of Whole Foods Market and the forward-thinking growers at Alderman Farms and Lady Moon Farms.
Without a doubt, the food market is changing, and for the better. Sustainability, social as well as environmental, is the way of the future. Together we—as farm workers, farmers, and buyers—are forging a path toward that better future.
Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) praised the two farms for recognizing that treating workers fairly and paying a better wage isn’t bad for business, “but rather the best way to ensure the long-term success of Florida’s tomato growers.”
Whole Foods should also be congratulated for its leadership in demanding higher standards from its suppliers. All Florida tomato growers should follow the example…and join with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in bringing fairer wages and more humane working conditions to all of Florida’s tomato harvesters.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who has long championed the tomato workers’ cause, says the new agreement is “an important and hard-earned victory for tomato workers who have been fighting for years for an increase in their abysmally low wages and an improvement in their working conditions.”
With the signing of this agreement, it is long past time for the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange to drop their threats of fines or surcharges on other growers who want to participate in the penny-per-pound program so that more workers can benefit. As someone who has been to Immokalee and seen the deplorable conditions of farm workers there, it is my hope that today will mark the beginning of the end of the “Harvest of Shame” that has existed in the tomato fields in Florida for far too long.
In September 2008, Whole Foods became the first in the supermarket industry to sign an agreement with the CIW. In a statement, Karen Christensen, global produce coordinator for Whole Foods, said:
Lady Moon and Alderman Farms are examples of Florida growers that we are proud to support. These farms are long-term partners of Whole Foods Market, and we look forward to continued growth together. Agreements like these are consistent with Whole Foods Market’s core values and are in the best interest of the people who harvest our tomatoes.