When you go to the super market to do your weekly shopping do you ever think about how that got there? Do think that machines do everything? Or that there is still farm workers out in the fields picking the fresh vegetables, fruits, etc. by hand… with their hands? Here in Florida we grow tomatoes, and they are picked by farm workers (the majority of them are documented and even born here), and they are still bought from the growers by the piece; about 50 cents for each 32 lbs picked. Does that seem like a lot to you? Does that seem to match the influx of the current market economy in order to live? Food is a basic necessity, period. So here are some basic facts:
- The price for the tomatoes have not changes since about the 1980’s
- A worker MUST pick 2.25 tons of tomatoes in order to make minimum wage in a 10-hour work-day (that is incredible!)
- Most farm workers only make $12, 000/year or less- this is below the poverty line here in the US.
- The state of Florida does not have a Labor department (Jeb Bush got rid of that).
- Farm workers have been overlooked in policy making, as a result they are not allowed to organize and bargain for better wages, or get paid for overtime.
- In some cases they are held to work against their will to work- the state of Florida has been called “ground zero for modern day slavery”
The Coalition of Immokalee Workers has been trying to change this situation. At the moment the CIW is working on having big food companies, super markets to sign the Fair Food agreement. What’s the Fair Food agreement? Well, here is an excerpt to help better clear things up:
“The Fair Food Program (FFP) is a unique farmworker- and consumer-driven initiative consisting of a wage increase supported by a price premium paid by corporate purchasers of Florida tomatoes, and a human-rights-based Code of Conduct, applicable throughout the Florida tomato industry. The price premium and the Code of Conduct, which were developed by tomato workers, growers, and corporate buyers in a groundbreaking collaboration, form the foundation for a new model of social accountability.” From the CIW page, http://www.ciw-online.org/FFP_FAQ.html
Right now the CIW is working to have these major buyers pay a penny more per pound of tomatoes. This isn’t new, this is a long battle that is still in the works, it took FIVE YEARS for Taco Bell and its sister companies to sign. McDonalds, Burger King, Whole Foods, and just recently Trader Joe’s have all signed the Fair Food agreement. This is wonderful, but one supermarket giant has yet to sign, Publix. You know Publix right? The place where “Shopping is a pleasure”? Yeah, that’s the one.
Publix is a giant private company here in the south. You can’t go very far without seeing one, one after another. How could this be? The same people who come the holidays bring us the commercials filled with family, warmth, good food, and let’s not forget the adorable pilgrim salt and pepper shakers. Publix has refused to sign the Fair Food agreement sighting irreverent excuses; it is up to each individual Publix, Publix does not directly work with paying the pickers, etc. It seems like the current CEO of Publix, Mr. Howard Jenkins has completely forgotten the words of Publix founding father George W. Jenkins, “making a profit should never get in the way of doing the right thing.” The right thing is to treat farm workers with fairness, to do the humane thing, to do the RIGHT thing. One can only speculate why a company such as Publix with such visionary ideals such as George W. Jekins would turn its back on this. In these uncertain times with the economy slowly coming back, one cannot help but wonder if it is due to profit margins, and or share holders, which I understand they have a responsibility to, but most importantly they have a responsibility to the those who supply and work hard for the growers, and in turn the companies. Without the workers there is nothing, and they need to understand that.
So here is what can be done, you as a consumer; you can write to your neighborhood Publix, take your business everywhere, print out a letter and give it to the manager of the your Publix letting them know that you stand with the CIW, and every farm worker. Everyone is entitled to fair treatment, and it is up to those who can help defend the rights of those who cannot that make the change that we need to see.
Please read more at the main CIW web page: