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Justice in the Tomato Fields

May 4, 2014
Plain English Version

picking tomatoesThere are big changes in Florida’s tomato fields. Gone are the days when workers did not get paid while they waited for buses to take them to the fields. Gone are the days when workers were screamed at, there were no rest breaks and women were abused.

Enter the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and the Fair Food Program. Thanks to them there has been a dramatic shift in working conditions and an increase in wages

Walmart joined  the Fair Food Program with other companies, such as McDonalds, Taco Bell, Burger King, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Chipotle and Subway.

Things improved even more when Pacific Tomato Growers and Lipman – two of the biggest growers in the nation – signed on. Opposition to the Fair Food Program from grower’s groups, such as the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange, collapsed. In fact the Exchange is now a member.

The cost: a penny a pound added to the wages of the workers. That will put an extra $60 to $80 a week in the pockets of the workers. It will cost the growers about $4 million more annually.

The standards of the Fair Food Program are better than those of the government. Shade tents are mandated. Every farm has a health and safety committee. There is a hotline to a Spanish-speaking investigator.

A founder of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers said, “We see ourselves as a standard-setting organization.”

There is a lot of oversight. A former NY judge reviews the activities. She said, “Supervisors have gotten the message. We are seeing far fewer charges of harassment than three years ago.”

A manager said, “We are trying to run a business and make a profit. But everyone wants to know they are changing the world for the better.”

The program is now planning to give its tomatoes a “Fair Food” label. This will tell consumers that production of their tomatoes has met their standards.

Source: The New York Times                                                                                       April 24, 2014


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