The Cruel Exploitation of Farmworkers Continues Unabated—Only Organizing Can Turn It Around
(Alternet) Founded in 1993, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) first targeted tomato growers, but years of marches and strikes convinced them the growers were not going to raise wages or improve working conditions unless buyers of their tomatoes would help cover the cost. The CIW began targeting buyers of tomatoes: grocery stores, restaurants, institutional food service companies.
The workers' demand was easy to communicate to the general public: an additional penny a pound for the tomatoes they picked. At the time pickers were earning about 1.5 cents per pound, not much more than they had collected 25 years before. To put that penny in context, we pay $1 to $4 per pound in the grocery store for those tomatoes. An extra penny a pound would cost the average family a paltry 40 cents a year but as McMillan observes, if “the premium went toward wages, workers would, in effect, receive a nearly 80 percent raise.”
The Campaign for Fair Food’s chose as its first target Taco Bell. Student customers immensely aided the campaign. At more than 300 college campuses and 50 high schools they urged people to “Boot the Bell” until the chain responded to the workers' demands. At one point 22 colleges banned Taco Bell from operating.
In 2005, after four years of picketing, organizing, and demonstrating, the workers finally convinced Taco Bell and its parent company, Yum! Brands, to agree to their a-penny-more demand. Two years later, McDonald’s signed up. In 2008, Burger King, Subway, and Whole Foods Market followed suit. In 2010, the campaign added Aramark and Sodexo, two of the country’s largest institutional food service companies, to its list of partners. In 2012 Chipotle and Trader Joe's agreed. In 2014 and 2015 Walmart and Ahold, respectively, agreed to work on behalf of the 30,000 workers in their combined supply chains.
…Companies that comply with the Fair Food Program are committed to buy tomatoes only from growers who agree with the CIW Code of Conduct (see linked article for bullets describing the CIW).
The Immokalee region in southwestern Florida grows one-third of all U.S. tomatoes.
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