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Coalition of Immokalee Workers win historic victories

Two weeks ago, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers signed workers’ rights agreements, included a promise to pay farm workers a penny more per pound of tomatoes that they pick, with Pacific Tomato Growers and Six L’s Packing Co., the first deals that have ever been struck by the organization with major tomato growers themselves. As Kari Lydersen explained at Working In These Times:

These back-to-back victories show that when confronted with social and economic pressure and a nationwide grassroots movement that refuses to back down, even the seemingly worst employers can do an about-face. Both Six L’s and Pacific Tomato Growers, which signed the agreement with the CIW last week, were responsible for cases of modern-day slavery which the coalition had worked with the Department of Justice to expose and prosecute in recent years.

Knowing they’d be hard-pressed to get results from the growers themselves at the start of their campaign a decade ago, the coalition targeted high-profile buyers, starting with Taco Bell and later McDonald’s, Burger King, Whole Foods, Sodexo and others with the idea they would pressure growers to do the right thing.

The fact that growers are in quick succession now signing on with the coalition shows an historic sea change in farm worker-employer relations – even as the coalition and their allies continue to target tomato buyers including the Florida-based supermarket Publix, Kroger, Trader Joe’s and Quiznos.

Paying a penny more per pound could raise farm workers’ income from about $10,000 to $17,000 a year. And perhaps even more importantly, the agreements signify that farm workers are indeed human beings with human rights and dignity whose labor is crucial to feeding the country and making possible the nation’s massive restaurant industry.

This campaign for worker justice, however, is not the work of these farm workers alone. Over at God’s Politics, Brigitte Gynther writes of several easy steps that we can all take:

As people of faith, and as consumers, we can ask major supermarkets to do their part in ensuring that the people who pick our tomatoes are treated with the dignity they deserve as God’s children.  Send an e-mail to KrogerStop & Shop/GiantPublix, and Trader Joe’s asking them to work with the CIW to implement a code of conduct for farmworker rights and pay an additional penny per pound of tomatoes to improve farmworkers’ wages.

You can also deliver a letter to the manager of a supermarket near you next time you go grocery shopping and ask the manager to pass it on to corporate headquarters.

And, of course, if emails and letters don’t work, which they rarely do by themselves, protests and other forms of nonviolent action can create more pressure on these corporate holdouts.