The struggle for labor justice in the fields of the United States—and perhaps far beyond—took an historic stride forward yesterday. At a folding table in a metal-clad produce packing shed beside a tomato field in southwestern Florida, two high-ranking executives from the giant retailer Walmart, which sells more groceries than any other company in the world, sat down beside two Mexican farmworkers and signed an agreement to join the Fair Food Program. Read more
In 1993, six farmworkers gathered in a local Catholic church in Immokalee, Florida, two hours northwest of Miami. Seated in a circle of folding chairs, they began to recount the human rights abuses they had suffered and witnessed while working in the tomato fields of Florida. Read more
This week, from November 24-30, is the second annual International Food Workers Week (IFWW), organized by the Food Chain Workers Alliance. Organized around Thanksgiving, our goal is to lift up the workers in our food system–from farmworkers to those who work in meat, poultry, and food processing and in the distribution, retail, and service industries. With 20 million food workers in the U.S., and millions more around the world, our economy and our daily sustenance depends on these people. Read more
Recently, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) received the prestigious Four Freedoms Medal from the Roosevelt Institute. The CIW, a worker-based human rights organization recognized worldwide for its ground-breaking work to end modern-day slavery and other agriculture-based labor abuses, joins a truly remarkable list of laureates, including Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, and Presidents Truman, Kennedy, Carter, and Clinton. Read more
What do food banks, food chain workers, and Dreamers all have in common? The answer, when it comes to immigration, is just about everything.
Today, our misguided immigration policies prevent us from providing healthy and sustainable food for all families, from upholding basic standards of human and labor rights within our food systems, and from creating opportunities for healthy communities for all children. In fact, America’s food system cannot thrive without fair, just, and humane immigration reform. Read more
Last weekend in Oakland, protesters slowly amassed, holding signs pleading that “if Chipotle loves small farms then they should also love their farmworkers.” Primarily students and young adults, the group quickly moved down the narrow pathways of the farmers’ market along Grand Avenue to accumulate more supporters. In the end, they convened at the newly opened Chipotle food chain along Lakeshore Avenue to form a picket line of protestors.
The Coalition for Immokolee Workers (CIW), in alliance with The Student Farmworker Alliance, Just Harvest, and Interfaith Action of Southwest Florida are coordinating protests in 25 cities this week as part of their plans for a National Day of Action. The CIW have been organizing since 1993 and their allies have been walking alongside them since 2001. Together, they are working with farmworkers in Immokalee, Florida on the Campaign for Fair Food, a grassroots farmworker-led campaign to change living and working conditions for those in the fields picking tomatoes. (Florida’s tomato industry is responsible for nearly all of the fresh tomatoes grown in the U.S. between November and June.)
The Campaign applies pressure to food corporations, like grocery stores and fast food chains, in order to get them to sign the Fair Food agreement stating that they will purchase from farms that abide by a set of quality of life and living wage standards for farmworkers. Basic asks include an increase of one penny per pound of tomatoes picked, respect for workers, business transparency, and an enforced code of conduct for agricultural suppliers. These are not drastic asks, rather a human dignity not previously offered and now demanded for by a worker-run movement. For example, tomato pickers haven’t seen a salary raise in over 30 years. Read more
Rita has worked for the same Missouri-based pork processing company for 13 years. And yet she feels like she could lose her job at any time. If this 49-year-old mother of four is late for work by as little as five minutes, that’s one strike. If she takes more than her allotted seven minutes to race to the bathroom and back, that’s another strike. Three strikes is all it takes.
Rita (not her real name) cuts pork on a line she says has sped up considerably in recent years. The factory has reduced its staff, but demands the same amount of work from the employees that remain. She has to move fast, with a sharp knife, on her feet, for eight to 10 hours a day. “I’ve never seen so many people with heart problems,” she said of her co-workers over the phone recently. “I think it’s because of the stress. Where there used to be four of us, now there are two people. [The managers] say, ‘You all can do this.’”
In recent years, some workers have started talking about the conditions they face and trying to organize for better ones. Whenever this has happened, the company takes two approaches, Rita tells me. They start with a small raise (most meatpacking workers make a dollar or two more than minimum wage) to calm everyone down. If that doesn’t work, they’ll start firing people. Through all this, Rita has stayed on at the plant. “There are no other jobs,” she says. Read more
Summer in San Francisco is here, and if you listen carefully, you will hear a cry from locavores: “The tomatoes are here!” Our farmers’ market tomatoes usually start with small cherry tomatoes, which burst in your mouth, and as we head into August, you’ll start seeing larger tomatoes, which are perfect for salads, finally culminating in tomato abundance in September, which is the time that many of us start our canning projects.
But tomatoes that we get at our local farmers’ markets are not the norm. Much of the $5 billion tomato industry in the United States focuses on providing tomatoes to consumers year-round. This consumer demand comes at a steep price; supermarket tomatoes are usually tasteless, artificially ripened, and picked by farmworkers who are treated unjustly and exposed to extreme levels of pesticides.
Join us for the next Kitchen Table Talks in San Francisco where we delve into the story of tomatoes, including labor rights and the successes of the Campaign for Fair Food, heirloom varieties of tomatoes, and a discussion about tomato research being conducted at the University of California, Davis. Read more
You would never participate in slavery, right?
I know, it seems like a bizarre question in this day and age–of course no sane, civilized member of a modern society would take part in the indentured servitude of others. Lincoln ended all that 150 years ago, didn’t he? And of course you and I would never have anything to do with slavery in 2010.
The dirty little secret though is that millions of Americans are contributing to it each week and they don’t even know it. When you buy tomatoes at the local Publix, Ahold, Kroger, or Walmart, you become the last link in a chain that is attached to shackles in south Florida. Read more
Two weeks ago, my coworker Karen and I left the office a little early and walked across Manhattan to the Trader Joe’s store in Chelsea, where a small group had gathered making signs and chatting. Among them were members of the Florida-based Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a grassroots group working to improve wages and working conditions for farmworkers. Over the course of about 45 minutes, dozens more people filled the sidewalk in front of the store, including labor activists from the Jewish Labor Committee, Just Harvest USA and the Farmworker Solidarity Alliance, as well as local youths and a handful of musicians from the Rude Mechanical Orchestra.
Trader Joe’s, along with Publix, Kroger, and Dutch-held Ahold grocery chains (which include Giant, Stop & Shop, Martin’s and Peapod), are the most recent targets of CIW’s Fair Food Campaign. Over the last nine years the Coalition, together with partner organizations like the Student/Farmworker Alliance, has managed, through well-organized consumer campaigns and sometimes boycotts, to convince some of the food industry’s largest corporations (including Taco Bell/Yum Brands, McDonald’s, Subway, Whole Foods and Compass) to agree to the tenets of Fair Food: an extra penny a pound for tomatoes (nearly doubling the wages for pickers, who’ve not seen a raise since the mid-1970s), a labor Code of Conduct, greater transparency in the supply chain and incentives for growers that respect human rights. Read more