The Florida Tomato Growers Exchange — a trade group representing 90 percent of the state’s tomato producers — has agreed to a penny-per-pound wage increase and new labor standards for workers throughout the state.

This is the latest victory for the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, who have led efforts over the last two decades to pressure both producers and purchasers of tomatoes in Florida to improve working conditions and provide fair wages, spearheading successful campaigns in recent years against Taco Bell, Burger King, McDonald’s, Aramark, and Subway.

From a CIW press release:

“This is a watershed moment in the history of Florida agriculture,” said Lucas Benitez of the CIW. “With this agreement, the Florida tomato industry – workers and growers alike – is coming together in partnership to turn the page on the conflict and stagnation of the past and instead forge a new and stronger industry.”

“Make no mistake, there is still much to be done,” continued Benitez. “This is the beginning, not the end, of a very long journey. But with this agreement, the pieces are now in place for us to get to work on making the Florida tomato industry a model of social accountability for the 21st century.”

The CIW recently celebrated similar victories against two other national tomato producers, which, when fully implemented, are expected to raise the average farmworker’s pay from 45 to 77 cents per bucket — an increase that amounts to thousands of dollars per year.

After a 15 year labor dispute, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and two of the nation’s largest tomato growers have reached an agreement. CIW represents Florida farm workers who pick tomatoes and has worked to raise abysmally low pay and horrific conditions in the fields, in part by drawing public attention to the conditions under which American food is produced. The social responsibility agreements are between the Coalition and Pacific Tomato Growers, as well as Six L’s Packing Co. “In a free society, few are guilty, but all are responsible,” explained Jon Esformes, operating partner of Pacific Tomato Growers, “The transgressions that took place are totally unacceptable today and they were totally unacceptable yesterday.”

The CIW, which has also worked to uncover cases of modern-day slavery in Florida’s tomato fields, acknowledges that these new standards, while instrumental in improving working conditions for field-hands around the country, are simply one step forward in a campaign that has been decades in the making, and the group is now poised to take action against grocers themselves.

A crucial element of CIW’s strategy is still to win commitments to pay the penny from the heavyweights in the food supply chain: grocery stores. CIW launched new pressure campaigns against Publix, Trader Joe’s, Giant, Stop&Shop, and Kroger this week — and now, with a big grower on board, it looks ready to take the giant steps Florida tomato pickers have been struggling decades to achieve.

A press release issued today by the CIW underscores the organization’s plans to next take their fight to supermarkets:

“Nearly 50 years to the day since Edward R. Murrow shocked the nation with his landmark report Harvest of Shame – which aired the day after Thanksgiving, 1960 – a solution has appeared on the horizon through the Campaign for Fair Food,” added Gerardo Reyes, also of the CIW.

“For this new model to achieve its full potential, however, retail food industry leaders must also step up and support the higher standards,” concluded Reyes. “Key players in the fast-food and foodservice industries have already committed their support. It is time now for supermarket industry leaders to seize this historic opportunity and help make the promise of fresh – and fair – tomatoes from Florida a reality.”

Read the press release, in full:

Coalition of Immokalee Workers and Florida Tomato Growers Exchange announce landmark agreement to extend Fair Food principles to over 90% of Florida tomato industry

Immokalee, FL – The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) and the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange (FTGE) have reached an agreement that will extend the CIW’s Fair Food principles – including a strict code of conduct, a cooperative complaint resolution system, a participatory health and safety program, and a worker-to-worker education process – to over 90% of the Florida tomato industry.

The collaboration will unfold in a two-step process.  For this season (2010-2011), participating FTGE members (see the complete list at the end of this release) have agreed to pass through the penny-per-pound from participating purchasers and cooperate with a financial audit of the penny-per-pound funds.  They have also adopted the Fair Food Code of Conduct, which will be fully implemented by the beginning of the 2011-2012 season.

Also during the current season, FTGE member growers Six L’s and Pacific Tomato Growers (who independently signed agreements with the CIW earlier this season) will join with the CIW in a Working Group charged with developing and evaluating the protocols and systems necessary to implement the Fair Food Code of Conduct.  The Working Group will develop systems that can be applied on the industry level.  During this first season, the code will be fully in effect, and monitored, only on farms that are part of the Working Group.

In the second step, beginning with the 2011-2012 season, the protocols and systems developed and tested during the first season by the Working Group will be shared with the other member farms, and the Code of Conduct will become fully effective on all participating farms.

The participating farms issued the following statement on the agreement through the FTGE:

“Our industry is and always has been strongly committed to supporting real, long-term and comprehensive solutions that improve the lives of all farm workers and their families. That’s why we’ve agreed to work with the CIW in establishing new standards of verifiable social accountability for the tomato industry as a whole. We realize that this is a work in progress and this partnership will get stronger over time. It will not be completed overnight. As we move forward, we can be certain that labor complaints will continue to arise in the foreseeable future, but it is how we deal with these complaints in this new partnership that will serve to demonstrate that we are serious and that our approach is working. As time goes by, we are confident that we will be able to weed out the bad actors and, working together, build a stronger, more sustainable industry that will be better equipped than ever to thrive in an increasingly competitive market place.”

The breakthrough agreement comes after fifteen years of often contentious relations between the CIW and the growers’ association.  It also comes in the wake of bilateral Fair Food agreements announced last month with tomato industry leaders Pacific Tomato Growers and Six L’s.

“This is a watershed moment in the history of Florida agriculture,” said Lucas Benitez of the CIW.  “With this agreement, the Florida tomato industry – workers and growers alike – is coming together in partnership to turn the page on the conflict and stagnation of the past and instead forge a new and stronger industry.”

“Make no mistake, there is still much to be done,” continued Benitez.  “This is the beginning, not the end, of a very long journey.  But with this agreement, the pieces are now in place for us to get to work on making the Florida tomato industry a model of social accountability for the 21st century.”

“Nearly 50 years to the day since Edward R. Murrow shocked the nation with his landmark report Harvest of Shame – which aired the day after Thanksgiving, 1960 – a solution has appeared on the horizon through the Campaign for Fair Food,” added Gerardo Reyes, also of the CIW.

“For this new model to achieve its full potential, however, retail food industry leaders must also step up and support the higher standards,” concluded Reyes.  “Key players in the fast-food and foodservice industries have already committed their support.  It is time now for supermarket industry leaders to seize this historic opportunity and help make the promise of fresh – and fair – tomatoes from Florida a reality.”

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