Wendy’s, What Are You Waiting For?: Calling on the Fast Food Giant to Stand up For Farmworkers May 18, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Agriculture, Food, Human Rights, Immigration, Labor.
Tags: agriculture, anna lappe, christina bronsing, fair food, farm labor, fast food chains, immokalee, immokalee workers, labor, labour, roger hollander, taco bell, wendy's, workers rights
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Who has freckles, pigtails, and is still holding out from joining the Fair Food Program? If you guessed the fresh-faced mascot of Wendy’s, give yourself a gold star. As part of its efforts to improve conditions in the fields, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a group of farmworkers based in Florida, is calling on the fast food giant Wendy’s to step up for farmworkers and their families.
The Coalition has had an impressive wave of wins as many companies — eleven to date — have signed an agreement to improve conditions for farmworkers. Of the top five fast food chains, McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway, and Yum! Brands (owners of Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, KFC and A&W) have all joined the Fair Food Program. In response to pressure from the Coalition and its allies, the list has grown to include Chipotle, food retailers (Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s), and food service companies (BAMCO, Aramark, Sodexo and Compass Group). The overwhelming majority of tomato growers now participate in this farmworker-driven commitment through the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange, which represents 90 percent of the industry.
By signing on to the agreement, companies must now comply with a code of conduct that includes protections for cases of wage theft, sexual harassment, and forced labor. Companies also agree to pay a small premium for tomatoes — just a penny more per pound. As a result, workers have safer working conditions and have started seeing increases in their paychecks for the first time in more than 30 years.
Think a penny a pound doesn’t sound like much? It adds up. Over $10 million has been paid out through these victories since January 2011. That number will only keep growing as more companies sign on.
Hey, Wendy’s, are you listening?
Wendy’s, of all companies, can afford paying this premium. One of the highest earning fast food chains in the country, Wendy’s comes in at number two behind McDonald’s. Nearly 6,600 restaurants in the U.S. and around the globe afford the company serious market power– influence that can go a long way to shift purchasing practices. Instead of leveraging that power to demand lower prices from suppliers, Wendy’s could be rewarding growers who respect workers’ rights.
Other fast food companies have stepped up, like Taco Bell. The fast food giant was the first company to sign on to the Coalition agreement back in 2005, after four years of pressure and organizing. In its announcement, Taco Bell said:
“As an industry leader, we are pleased to lend our support to and work with the CIW to improve working and pay conditions for farmworkers in the Florida tomato fields… We recognize there is a need for reform… We hope others in the restaurant industry and supermarket retail trade will follow our leadership.” – Emil Brolick, Taco Bell President (2005)
Brolick and Taco Bell showed that signing on to the agreement wouldn’t threaten a company’s bottom line. In fact, Brolick’s tenure is credited with boosting sales and ‘turning things around at Taco Bell. Proof that profits don’t come at the expense of workers’ rights.
Seven years later, Wendy’s is still dragging its feet instead of following Taco Bell’s example — or more accurately Brolick’s own example, since he has now taken over as CEO of Wendy’s.
This week, as Wendy’s convenes its annual shareholders’ meeting in New York City, the Coalition is in town to make sure the company has its priorities straight. On Saturday, May 18th, farmworkers and allies will march from Union Square to nearby Wendy’s locations, reminding shareholders that farmworkers aren’t an abstract budget line item, but hardworking women and men who deserve respect. (And, sure, to give Wendy’s CEO Emil Brolick a dose of déjà vu. He already has some experience with this, after all.)
If you’re in or around New York, show your support: join the march from Union Square this Saturday at 2pm. And if you’re miles from the action: raise your virtual voice and sign the e-petition!
As farmworker and organizer with the CIW, Gerardo Reyes Chávez says, “The change we are seeking is underway–and it is unstoppable. And it is unstoppable not because we say it is — but because there’s people like you taking action.”
The Tomatoes of Wrath September 26, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Agriculture, Human Rights, Immigration, Labor.
Tags: agricultural industry, agricultural workers, agriculture, chris hedges, ciw, collective bargaining, fair food, farmworkers, fieldworkers, florida labor, florida tomatoes, immigrant workers, immokalee, labor, labor standards, publix, roger hollander, slave labor, trader joe's, whole foods
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It is 6 a.m. in the parking lot outside the La Fiesta supermarket in Immokalee, Fla. Rodrigo Ortiz, a 26-year-old farmworker, waits forlornly in the half light for work in the tomato fields. White-painted school buses with logos such as “P. Cardenas Harvesting” are slowly filling with fieldworkers. Knots of men and a few women, speaking softly in Spanish and Creole, are clustered on the asphalt or seated at a few picnic tables waiting for crew leaders to herd them onto the buses, some of which will travel two hours to fields. Roosters are crowing as the first light of dawn rises over the cacophony. Men shovel ice into 10-gallon plastic containers from an ice maker next to the supermarket, which opens at 3:30 a.m. to sell tacos and other food to the workers. The containers—which they lug to pickup trucks—provide water for the pickers in the sweltering, humid fields where temperatures soar to 90 degrees and above.
(Illustration by Mr. Fish)
Ortiz, a short man in a tattered baseball cap and soiled black pants that are too long and spill over the tops of his worn canvas sneakers, is not fortunate this day. By 7 a.m. the last buses leave without him. He heads back to the overcrowded trailer he shares with several other men. There are always workers left behind at these predawn pickup sites where hundreds congregate in the hopes of getting work. Nearly 90 percent of the workers are young, single immigrant men, and at least half lack proper documents or authorization to work in the United States.
Harvesting tomatoes is an endeavor that comes with erratic and unpredictable hours, weeks with overtime and weeks with little to do and no guarantees about wages. Once it starts to rain, workers are packed back onto the buses and sent home, their workday abruptly at an end. Ortiz and the other laborers congregate at the pickup points every morning never sure if there will be work. And when they do find daywork they are paid only for what they pick.
“I only had three days of work this week,” Ortiz says mournfully. “I don’t know how I will pay my rent.”
Ortiz, who along with many others among these migrant workers sends about $100 home to Mexico every month to support elderly parents, works under conditions in these fields that replicates medieval serfdom and at times descends into outright slavery. He lives far below the poverty line. He has no job security, no workers’ compensation, no disability insurance, no paid time off, no access to medical care, Social Security, Medicaid or food stamps and no protection from the abusive conditions in the fields. The agricultural industry has a death rate nearly six times higher than most other industries, and the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that of the 2 million farmworkers in the United States 300,000 suffer pesticide poisoning every year.
“We are standing on the threshold of achieving significant change in the agricultural industry,” Marc Rodrigues, with the Student/Farmworker Alliance, tells me later in the day at the CIW office in Immokalee. “But if the supermarkets do not participate and support it then it will not go any further. Their lack of participation threatens to undermine what the workers and their allies have accomplished. They represent a tremendous amount of tomato purchasing. They wield a lot of influence over conditions in the field. For those growers not enamored of the concept of workers attaining rights and being treated with dignity, they will know that there is always a market for their tomatoes with no questions asked, where nothing is governed by a code of conduct or transparency. If we succeed, this will help lift farmworkers, who do one of the most important, dangerous and undervalued jobs in our society, out of grinding poverty into one where they can have a slightly more decent and normal life and provide for their families.”
The next major mobilization in the campaign will take place at noon Oct. 21 outside Trader Joe’s corporate headquarters in Monrovia, Calif. This will follow a week of local actions to target supermarkets across the country. To thwart the campaign, the public relations departments of Trader Joe’s, Publix and other supermarkets are churning out lies and half truths, as well as engaging in unsettling acts of intimidation and surveillance. Publix sent out an employee posing as a documentary filmmaker to record the activities of the organizers.
“Publix has a cabal of labor relations, human relations and public relations employees who very frequently descend from corporate headquarters in Lakeland, Fla.—or one of their regional offices—and show up at our demonstrations,” says Rodrigues. “They watch us with or without cameras. They constantly attempt to deflect us: If we attempt to speak to consumers or store managers these people will intercept us and try to guide us away. These people in suits and ties come up to us and refer to us by our first names—as if they know us—in a sort of bizarre, naked attempt at intimidation.”
If you live in a community that has a Whole Foods, which is the only major supermarket chain to sign the agreement, shop there and send a letter to competing supermarkets telling them that you will not return as a customer until they too sign the CIW Fair Food Agreement. Details about planned protests around the country can be found on the CIW website.
Workers in the fields earn about 50 cents for picking a bucket containing 32 pounds of tomatoes. These workers make only $10,000 to $12,000 a year, much of which they send home. The $10,000-$12,000 range, because it includes the higher pay of supervisors, means the real wages of the pickers are usually less than $10,000 a year. Wages have remained stagnant since 1980. A worker must pick 2.25 tons of tomatoes to make minimum wage during one of the grueling 10-hour workdays. This is twice what they had to pick 30 years ago for the same amount of money. Most workers pick about 150 buckets a day. And these workers have been rendered powerless by law. In Florida, collective bargaining is illegal, one of the legacies of Jim Crow practices designed to keep blacks poor and disempowered. Today the ban on collective bargaining serves the same purpose in thwarting the organizing efforts of the some 30,000 Hispanic, Mayan and Haitian agricultural laborers who plant and harvest 30,000 acres of tomatoes.
The CIW, which organized a nationwide boycott in 2001 against Taco Bell, forced several major fast food chains including Yum Brands, McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway, Whole Foods Market, Compass Group, Bon Appétit Management Co., Aramark and Sodexo to sign the agreement, which demands more humane labor standards from their Florida tomato suppliers and an increase of a penny per bucket. But if the major supermarkets too do not sign this agreement, growers who verbally, sexually and physically abuse workers will be able to continue selling tomatoes to the supermarkets. This could leave at least half of all the fields without protection, making uniform enforcement of the agreement throughout the fields difficult if not impossible.
“Supply chains are very opaque and secretive,” says Gerardo Reyes, a farmworker and CIW staff member. “This is one of the reasons a lot of these abuses continue. The corporations can always feign that they did not know the abuses were happening or that they had any responsibility for them as long as there is no transparency or accountability.”
One of the most celebrated modern cases of fieldworker slavery was uncovered in November 2007 after three workers escaped from a box truck in which they had been locked. They and 12 others had been held as slaves for two and a half years. They had to relieve themselves in a corner of the truck at night and pay five dollars if they wanted to bathe with a garden hose. They were routinely beaten. Some were chained to poles at times. During the days they worked on some of the largest farms in Florida. It was the seventh such documented case of slavery in a decade.
“As long as the supermarket industry refuses to sign this agreement it gives the growers an escape,” says Reyes. “We need to bring the pressure of more buyers who will sign the agreement to protect the workers. We have gotten all of the major corporations within the fast food industry and food providers to sign this agreement. Two of the three most important buyers within the industry are on board. But if these supermarkets continue to hold out they can put all the mechanisms we have set in place for control at risk. If Wal-Mart, Trader Joe’s and other supermarkets say the only criteria is buying from those growers who offer the lowest possible price then we will not be able to curb abuses. If the agreement is in place and there is another case of slavery then the growers will be put in a penalty box. If we do not have the ability to impose penalties then there will always be a way for abusive growers to sell. The agreement calls on these corporations to stop buying from growers, for example, that use slave labor. Without the agreement there is no check on these practices.”
“Supermarkets, such as Trader Joe’s, insist they are responsible and fair,” Reyes goes on. “They use their public relations to present themselves as a good corporation. They sell this idea of fairness, this disguise. They use this more sophisticated public relations campaign, one that presents them as a friend of workers, while at the same time locking workers out of the discussion and kicking us out of the room. They want business as usual. They do not want people to question how their profits are created. We have to fight not only them but this sophisticated public relations tactic. We are on the verge of a systemic change, but corporations like Trader Joe’s are using all their power to push us back.”
Members and supporters of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers will march from a Trader Joe’s store at 604 W. Huntington Dr. in Monrovia, Calif., to the market chain’s headquarter a mile away, starting at noon Oct. 21. The farmworkers organization is demanding that Trader Joe’s support the human rights of the men and women who harvest tomatoes sold in its stores. For more information, click here, send an email to email@example.com or telephone (510) 725-8752 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (510) 725-8752 end_of_the_skype_highlighting.
Chris Hedges writes a regular column for Truthdig.com. Hedges graduated from Harvard Divinity School and was for nearly two decades a foreign correspondent for The New York Times. He is the author of many books, including: War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning, What Every Person Should Know About War, and American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. His most recent book is Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.
Tags: agriculture, burger king, cesar chavez, ciw, fair food, farm workers, floriida labor, food industry, immokalee, justice, labor, labour, michelle chan, roger hollander, taco bell, tomato industry, trader joe's, ufw
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The hot summer has brought in a bumper crop of food activism from coast to coast. For the past few weeks, a group of Florida farm workers has embarked on a marketing coup that challenges the country’s food business giants by educating consumers about exploitation in the tomato industry.
(Image: Coalition of Immokalee Workers) The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) has made a name for itself by using creative consumer-driven campaigns to promote fairer wages and working conditions for tomato harvesters, a workforce fueled by Latino migrant laborers. Though corporate resistance has been formidable, the group has scored a series of victories over the past few years over the likes of Taco Bell, Burger King and Subway. Partnering with consumer groups and fair-food activists, the CIW’s Campaign for Fair Food seeks to educate people about the brutal labor that goes into each tomato.
Farmworkers’ backbreaking toil will be spotlighted on some of the trendiest sidewalks in Manhattan on Friday, with rallies at Trader Joe’s stores in the Village and Chelsea. The actions follow a similar campaign on the West Coast in which protesters in San Francisco and Berkeley wielded paper-bag picket signs and marched through the Mission District calling on drivers to “Honk for Farm Worker Justice.” The CIW now counts a number of religious leaders and gourmet food activist Barry Estabrook among its allies.
The Coalition says its multi-pronged struggle involves “all the elements of our country’s food industry,” from the folks hauling baskets all the way up to the florescent-lit supermarket aisle. Most importantly, the organization banks on the political leverage of consumers to push stores and suppliers to abide by ethical standards. With an active membership of several thousand, the workers themselves participate as well through organizing and educating people on “humanizing our farm labor system.”
The workers’ key demand, an additional penny per pound of tomatoes picked, seems a tiny cost for consumers and producers to absorb, given the workers’ long hours, arduous working conditions and their vulnerability to maltreatment and even slave labor. The pennies do add up for laborers, potentially boosting yearly earnings by several thousand dollars. (Typical wages amount to less than $12,000 annually, according to the Coalition, and after years of virtually stagnant wages, “a worker today must pick more than 2.25 tons of tomatoes to earn minimum wage in a typical 10-hour workday.”)
CIW’s summer Truth Tour demonstrations, which focus on big-name grocers, have been decried by the right-wing blogosphere as a “Prototypical Example of Alinsky Tactics and Smug Self-Immortalization.” Translation: an effective protest action.
The campaign puts Trader Joe’s hip, liberal brand in a bind: the company complained publicly in May that while it was willing to comply with CIW’s demands in general, specific provisions of the draft agreement were “overreaching” and “improper.” CIW responded with lengthy point-by-point rebuttals and declared, ‘It seems that the longer Trader Joe’s resists the Fair Food movement, the more its leadership — from the CEO to the public relations department — is determined to tarnish the company’s reputation as an ethical, progressive grocer.”
The organizing model evokes interesting historical comparisons with another wave of farm labor activist in the 1960s and 1970s led by United Farm Workers and Cesar Chavez, which pioneered union organizing in agriculture. Yet the UFW has lost political salience over the years, as working conditions have deteriorated.
The younger, nimbler CIW is not a union, but in many ways neither needs nor desires the conventional union structure. The fluid, precarious nature of migrant labor is a barrier to movement building, yet at the same time, the tomato industry’s severe consolidation across the supply chain provide fertile ground for focused, visible campaigns that mobilize consumers and workers in tandem.
Last fall, Kari Lydersen reported that faced with pressure from consumers and workers, some of Florida’s big growers had finally agreed to the penny-per-pound wage subsidy. Soon after, the Coalition clinched a groundbreaking deal with the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange, which bound major growers to a contract that includes “a strict code of conduct, a cooperative complaint resolution system, a participatory health and safety program, and a worker-to-worker education process.” The agreement, estimated to cover more than 90 percent of Florida’s tomato industry, helps close a crucial gap in the chain, since retailers and restaurants agreeing to the penny raise could guarantee that the benefit would trickle down to workers.
The enforcement mechanism within the binding agreement is designed to keep growers and suppliers in check, using an outside nonprofit group to monitor compliance, so that, at least in theory, any grower that violates the code won’t be able to sell to retailers also bound to the agreement. CIW organizer Lucas Benitez told Naples Daily News that employers have to answer to both their buyers and their workers:
With this agreement, we will be working with growers to identify and eliminate abuses through a cooperative complaint investigation and resolution system, with real consequences for violations, including zero tolerance for forced labor.
In the absence of strong government regulation, the Coalition’s strategy aims not just to force employers to obey labor laws but also strive for decent working standards overall, in order to turn Florida’s tomato industry from a bastion of poverty into, in Benitez’s words, “a model of social accountability for the 21st century.”
Whether such industrial change can be wrought by a motley alliance of some of the country’s poorest workers, the biggest food brands, and the savviest customers, has yet to be seen. But if a bunch of migrant farm workers can get Manhattan hipsters to think seriously about who picked their salad this summer, they’re on the road to victory.
Governor Crist: It’s Time to End Slavery in Florida March 22, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Immigration, Labor.
Tags: bernie sanders, burger king, cheap labor, farm workers, florida, florida agribusiness, florida slavery, florida tomatoes, food justice, governor crist, human rights, immokalee, jeb bush, jim goodman, mcdonalds, roger hollander, slavery, subway, taco bell, taco bell boycott, tomato growers, whole foods, worker rights
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Published on Sunday, March 22, 2009 by CommonDreams.org
“The extreme is slavery, the norm is disaster.”
–Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders as he described the conditions in Immokalee Florida last year.
As a farmer and part of a Food Justice delegation to Immokalee earlier this month I would say that Senator Sanders was spot on. Poverty wages, abusive labor conditions, overpriced dilapidated housing; collectively humiliating the workers and stripping them of their basic human rights. Immokalee, little more than a labor reserve of immigrant farm workers from Mexico, Haiti and Guatemala supplying cheap labor to keep the winter vegetables flowing to northern markets.
The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) was formed in 1992 to organize the workers, help them defend their rights and rise above the daily abuse. Their community organizing eventually led them to, as Senator Sanders put it, the extreme, slavery, over 1,000 men and women held under conditions of modern day slavery since CIW was formed.
Initially the fight for worker rights was more a struggle for human rights, a struggle for the worker to be recognized as something other than merely a cog in the machinery of Florida agribusiness. CIW started with a general work strike, then in 1997 a hunger strike asking for dialog with the growers, but as one grower put it “a tractor doesn’t tell the farmer how to run the farm”. While the power of the growers seemed insurmountable there were other avenues to pursue.
Starting at the top of the food industry seemed like a David vs. Goliath task, yet the CIW saw promise, for indeed David had defeated Goliath. Their Campaign for Fair Food targeted the corporate buyers of Florida tomatoes, Taco Bell (part of YUM Brands) and later McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway and Whole Foods.
Initially there was silence, no response from Taco Bell. A year later with still no response, a successful four year national boycott was launched with the cooperation of organized labor, religious, student and non-profit groups. The demands: worker rights, zero tolerance for slavery and a penny more per pound of tomatoes passed directly to the workers. It was a ground breaking victory.
While the ensuing campaigns were still met with resistance, the corporate targets reached agreement faster and with what appeared to be genuine support for worker justice. Yet the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange remains united in their rejection of worker justice.
The growers said (in 2007) they wanted to develop “more impactful, comprehensive” ways of improving the lives of the farm workers and their families. Still the workers wait. The growers claimed the penny per pound deals violated racketeering laws, laws I am sure they understand.
Clearly, the penny a pound campaign was a success with vast popular appeal nationwide. The agreements would nearly double the wages of the workers and cost the Florida Tomato Growers nothing, yet would allow the corporate buyers to develop a business model based on social consciousness and worker participation that could go a long way to ending slavery in South Florida.
The growers, by their refusal to participate in the program, deny the workers what would be their first wage increase in nearly thirty years. By denying the workers a fair wage they also deny them fair working and living conditions, thereby endorsing the ongoing human rights abuses that allow slavery to exist.
One final question needs yet to be answered, what role will Governor Crist play in all of this? Something finally got through to the Governor, whether it was the CIW’s action in Tallahassee on March 9, their two years of repeated requests for a meeting with the Governor, or as Abraham Lincoln might have put it, the guidance of the better angels of his nature. When Governor Crist meets with the CIW this week, will he listen to those better angels?
To his credit Governor Crist held out against any sort of dialog for only two years, his predecessor Jeb Bush remained resolute for eight years. Still, this sudden willingness of Crist to meet with the CIW will mean little without executive action. Agreeing to a meeting is a start, but the true measure of the Governor’s moral compass will be seen in what actions he takes after the meeting.
Politics of the Plate: Florida’s Slave Trade March 3, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights, Immigration, Labor, Uncategorized.
Tags: barry estabrook, charlie crist, ciw, department of agriculture, farm workers, farm workers florida, farmworkers, florida, florida farmworkers, florida slavery, forced labor, human rights, immokalee, immokalee workers, labor, labour, roger hollander, scott robertson, slave ring, slavery, slavery organizations
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Government inaction may help explain why the tomato fields of the Sunshine State are fertile ground for forced labor.
A little slavery is okay, just not too much of it.
At this writing, that appears to be the official government position in the state of Florida, and it could explain why the fields of the Sunshine State provide such fertile ground for modern-day slavery. In the past dozen years, police have broken up and prosecuted seven slave operations there, freeing more than 1,000 men and women who were kept captive and forced to work for little or no money and threatened with death if they tried to escape. (For more on the plight of the Florida tomato pickers, see my article “The Price of Tomatoes” in the March 2009 issue of Gourmet.)
Late last year, two members of the Navarrete family, the operators of what has been recognized as the most brutal slave ring the state has seen, were sentenced to 12 years in prison; two others received lesser sentences. Justice having been done, it was an ideal opportunity for Governor Charlie Crist, who enjoys a very high approval rating, to spend a bit of that political capital to condemn the practice and announce bold steps to prevent it.
But Crist declined to comment, delegating that chore to a spokesman from the Department of Agriculture who told a reporter at the Ft. Myers News-Press, “Of course, I say any instance is too many, and any legitimate grower certainly does not engage in that activity. But you’re talking about maybe a case a year.”
If the governor really feels that any instance is too many, you would think he would be interested in at least talking with leaders of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), a grassroots organization of farm laborers whose inside knowledge has been instrumental in exposing at least a half-dozen slavery organizations. But when the CIW asked for a meeting two years ago after an earlier slavery case, the governor “was not available at the time,” according to an email sent to me by Sterling Ivey, his press secretary.
Nor did he find any available time over the ensuing 18 months, despite requests from a personal friend, dozens of prominent human rights and religious groups, and thousands of ordinary citizens who wrote or emailed him on behalf of the CIW.
Earlier last week, the coalition once again requested a meeting with Crist to “discuss human rights abuses, including modern-day slavery among farmworkers in Florida.” That request is now being “reviewed and considered,” said Ivey.
To encourage the governor, the CIW has given him a March 9 deadline for coming to the table. If he doesn’t, they promise a “creative action” that will bring the conditions in south Florida’s tomato fields to the corridors of power in Tallahassee, the state’s capital, where the group promises to re-enact some of the abuses described in court documents from the Navarrete case. A short list of those abuses includes people being beaten, shackled in chains, locked in the back of box trucks without sanitary facilities, and robbed of their paychecks—none of which seem like the sort of images that Florida officials want broadcast on the nightly news.
Crist’s deafening silence comes at a time when other powerful folks who initially refused to play ball with the CIW have learned that it is in their best interest to join its anti-slavery campaign: After years of lobbying, pressure tactics, and “creative actions,” the CIW convinced several fast-food corporations to support efforts for higher pay and better working conditions for tomato workers and to have “zero tolerance” for slavery. Following the Navarrete case, some of those companies have stopped dealing with the tomato producers who did business with the slavery gang, and others have insisted that their suppliers take concrete steps to make sure no more slaves harvest their tomatoes—or else. “What side of the issue is Governor Crist going to be on?” asked Greg Asbed of the CIW, in a telephone interview. “If a month from now another slavery case goes to trial—and that may well happen—he’s got to think about the reaction to that.”
We’ll know what the governor thinks within the next week or so.
“This Agreement Has Incredible Importance for Our Movement”–Immokalee Workers Win Agreement with Subway over Tomato Prices in Florida December 10, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in Labor.
Tags: aramark, benefits, burger king, corporations, farmworker, fast food, florida, gerald reyes, immokalee, labor, labour, marc rodrigues, mcdonalds, minimum wage, overtime, poverty, slavery, sodexo, subway, supermarket, taco bell, tallahasee, tomatoes, unions, wages, workers, workers rights, working conditions
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December 10, 2008
The Coalition of Immokalee Workers reached an agreement last week with Subway, the third largest fast-food chain in the world and the biggest fast-food buyer of Florida tomatoes. Subway now joins other fast-food giants, McDonald’s, Taco Bell and Burger King, that have all agreed to pay farm workers at least another penny per pound of tomatoes they harvest and improve working conditions.
Marc Rodrigues, Co-coordinator of Student/Farmworker Alliance. That’s the national network of students in partnership with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.
Gerardo Reyes, Farmworker and member of Coalition of Immokalee Workers
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: In our final segment, we turn to an important victory for one of the most impoverished group of workers in this country, the migrant farm workers who harvest tomatoes in Florida. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers reached an agreement last week with Subway, the third largest fast-food chain in the world and the biggest fast-food buyer of Florida tomatoes. Subway now joins other fast-food giants—McDonald’s, Taco Bell and Burger King—that have all agreed to pay farm workers at least another penny per pound of tomatoes they harvest and improve working conditions.
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders hailed the agreement with Subway, describing it as “yet another blow to the scourge of slavery that continues to exist in the tomato fields of Florida.”
Coalition members are in New York this week for their Northeast Fair Food tour and will be honored tonight by the Small Planet Fund on the sixtieth anniversary of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.
We’re joined in the studio by Gerardo Reyes from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and Marc Rodrigues from the Student/Farmworker Alliance, that’s in partnership with the coalition.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now!
MARC RODRIGUES: Thanks. Thanks for having us.
GERARDO REYES: Thanks.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Gerardo, let’s begin with you. Talk about the significance of this new deal with Subway.
GERARDO REYES: Well, this agreement has an incredible importance for our movement, because it started as an idea to bring the biggest fast-food corporations to the table in order to improve the conditions that we face in the fields every day, conditions that go from stagnant wages to slavery, in the most extreme conditions. And right now, with this agreement with Subway, we could say that the most important representatives of the fast-food industry have already given their position on the situation, and they are in favor of a change. So now the question is for the supermarket industry and the providers of food to schools, like Aramark and Sodexo, that continue to benefit from the misery of communities like ours.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And you spoke about these conditions. Can you describe them a little more in more detail for our audience?
GERARDO REYES: Basically, today, a farm worker has to pick two-and-a-half tons of tomatoes in order to make only the equivalent to the minimum wage of Florida. But that’s picking by piece. The tomato bucket of thirty-two pounds gets paid from forty to forty-five cents. That’s without any type of benefits nor protections. We work from ten to fourteen hours in a normal day, seven days a week, if there’s work, without receiving overtime pay.
Workers—farm workers in most of the states of this country are excluded from the National Labor Relations Act that gives workers a right to organize. That’s why the agricultural industry have not paid attention to the demands that we had in the past. And that’s why we’re asking, like, who’s benefiting the most from our poverty? How could we change the way that the agricultural industry, the corporate agricultural industrial, exists today in the United States? And it was by focusing on the big buyers, that are the ones who get more profit than anybody else.
ANJALI KAMAT: I want to bring Marc Rodrigues into the conversation, and I want to ask you about the role of the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange. They seemed to be a stumbling block in this process. Can you explain who they are and what their position is on this deal that the Coalition has won with all of these fast-food chains?
MARC RODRIGUES: Yeah. Basically, the Tomato Growers Exchange is an entity that represents about 90 percent of the growers in Florida and goes to Tallahassee or D.C. to lobby on their behalf.
And what has happened ever since, more or less, we reached the agreement with McDonald’s is that the Growers Exchange has come out strongly opposing these agreements, first saying that they were un-American or saying that they’re possibly illegal, just saying that they didn’t want their members to participate in them. And so, they actually implemented a $100,000 fine against any of their own member growers who would be willing to fully participate in these agreements and allow the extra penny per pound to get through to the workers.
We know that there are growers who are willing to do that, because for a couple of years after we reached our agreement with Taco Bell in 2005, the penny per pound passed through was working completely fine. It wasn’t until the growers put up this resistance that that was halted.
Today, one of the major corporations that we have agreements with remain fully committed to carrying out those agreements. They’re still paying the extra penny per pound, but it’s going into a sort of neutral escrow account instead of getting to the workers. And we hope that the money from that account will be disbursed to the workers very soon, possibly starting with this season.
What we know is that this resistance on the part of the growers is a sign that our campaign is having an effect and that we are starting to make the change that we want to make, because, you know, just as the civil rights movement had its Bull Connors, we have the Growers Exchange. And they say that a candle burns the brightest when it’s about to go out, and it appears that that’s what’s happening now.
The important thing here is that, ironically, the resistance on the part of the growers has also attracted new allies to our cause, which might help us more in the long run. For example, we have four prominent US senators—
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: We just have ten seconds.
MARC RODRIGUES: —who are supporting us. And so, we’re going to see if we can work out the situation soon.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, that’s all we have time for. I want to thank you very much for being with us. Marc Rodrigues is a co-coordinator of the Student/Farmworker Alliance. And Gerardo Reyes is a farm worker and member of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.