For the last decade, the Campaign for Fair Food has been trying to reform labor conditions in Florida’s tomato industry. The Campaign for Fair Food, sponsored by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), made a big step forward last week when Pacific Tomato Growers agreed to several key labor improvements, as well as a penny a pound raise for the tomato pickers working in the fields. Another big step forward occurred this week when Florida’s largest tomato grower, Six L’s, also agreed to the improvements and raise in pay.
Domestic Fair Trade
The improvements in labor conditions are comparable to a domestic Fair Trade agreement. They include a joint complaint resolution system, a health and safety program, worker-to-worker education process, and a third-party auditor to ensure the penny per pound is passed on to the field workers.
A Whole Penny?
While a penny per pound raise in pay may not sound like much, currently, field workers make fifty cents per 32-pound bucket picked, or about $10,000-12,000 per year. With the raise to $0.82 per bucket, tomato pickers will see their annual income from tomato picking rise to about $17,000 annually.
Americans eat an average of 22 pounds of tomatoes each year. So an extra penny per pound for the workers is less than a quarter per person per year. Most of us can afford that and since tomato pickers haven’t had a raise in pay in thirty years, it seems more than fair.
Why Hasn’t This Been Done Already?
A significant point is that you and I have been paying the penny per pound for a few years already. Starting in 2005, the Campaign for Fair Food started having the effect they were looking for, which was to convince major corporate purchasers of tomatoes to pay the penny to prove that the market was willing to adjust.
The idea was that if major buyers and consumers could absorb the cost, then surely the growers associations would have no problem raising the pay of the field workers. First Taco Bell, later McDonald’s, Burger King, Whole Foods, and other corporate buyers joined on.
It didn’t work out the way the Campaign for Fair Food had planned. The growers associations got the extra money and did not pass it on to the workers.
The agreement last week between Pacific Tomato Growers and CIW marked the first time a growers association decided to pass on the pennies to the field workers. Jon Esformes, operating partner for Pacific Tomato Growers, said, “The transgressions that took place are totally unacceptable today and they were totally unacceptable yesterday.”
Six L’s got on board with the changes soon after and are an indication of how fast these changes can be made when someone in the corporation puts their mind to it.
What Else Needs to be Done?
There are still more growers associations that need to come on board with the plan. Check out the CIW site to see how you can take action or to learn more about what they are doing.
Image of tomatoes by visualdensity, used with a Creative Commons license.