Immokalee workers pact with Fresh Market sets “new precedent”

ORLANDO, Fla. – The Coalition of Immokalee Workers has announced that The Fresh Market, a North Carolina-based chain with 130 stores in 27 states, has joined the coalition’s Fair Food Program.

The CIW is a Florida-based human rights organization of more than 4,000 tomato harvesters, – mostly Latino, Mayan Indian, and Haitian, many of them immigrants. It has been campaigning for years to win Fair Food agreements with growers, supermarket chains and fast food outlets on livable wages and humane working conditions.

Under the pact between the CIW and Fresh Market, announced Jan. 7, the company will increase its purchases of tomatoes from Florida growers participating in the program by 15 percent year-over-year. Around 90 percent of the growers have signed onto the program.

This sets an “important new precedent that recognizes and supports growers who are making significant investments to improve labor conditions on their farms with increased market share,” the CIW said.

Yum Brands (whose holdings include Taco Bell and Pizza Hut) became, in 2005, the first company to join the program, which requires that purchasers – such as restaurant and grocery chains and food-service companies – of tomatoes grown under the program rules agree to pay an extra penny per pound for those tomatoes with all that money going to the harvesters.

A dozen other companies, including Walmart, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Trader Joe’s, Sodexo, Aramark, Subway, Whole Foods, Burger King and McDonald’s, have joined subsequently. The CIW reports that the extra penny has resulted in farmworkers earning around $15 million in “fair food premiums” since 2011.

“By enlisting the might of major restaurant chains and retailers,” reported the New York Times, the CIW has forced Florida growers to increase wages for 30,000 farmworkers and to “follow strict standards that mandate rest breaks and forbid sexual harassment and verbal abuse.” “The incentive for growers to comply… is economically stark,” noted the Time. “The big companies have pledged to buy only from growers who follow the new standards… The companies have also pledged to drop any suppliers that violate the standards.”

The penny can mean earning an extra $60 to $80 a week for the tomato harvesters – a 20 percent to 35 percent weekly increase for workers whose average wage is about $8.75 an hour.

The CIW’s Campaign for Fair Food, is still targeting three grocery and fast-food chains – Publix, Ahold USA/Kroger, and Wendy’s – for refusing to participate in the program.

Lakeland, Fla.-based Publix (one of the 10 largest volume supermarket chains in the country with $29 billion in sales in 2014 and 1,100 stores in the Deep South) has, says the CIW, “stubbornly refused to join this promising new partnership and to do its part to help improve the lives of the farmworkers who pick its tomatoes.”

Publix claims that it doesn’t want to get involved in what it considers a dispute between its suppliers and their workers. “We don’t believe ‘just paying the penny’ is the right thing to do,” the company says, adding that it “will not pay employees of other companies directly for their labor. That is the responsibility of their employer.”

As the CIW points out, however, the extra penny is in fact built into the price for the tomatoes paid to the growers, who then pay it to the harvesters, along with their regular wages.



Ben Markeson
Ben Markeson

Ben Markeson covers events in Florida for People's World. A native of Florida, Ben is an activist and a member of the Communist Party. Ben enjoys film, classical music and jazz, history, politics, comics and cats.