Chicago Activists Ask Chipotle: What About the Farm Workers?

by Tom Broderick

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) is an organization of tomato pickers based in Immokalee Florida. They came to Chicago to confront Chipotle Mexican Grill over their refusal to sign a formal code of conduct with the CIW. These farmworkers have been working under very harsh circumstances for years while being paid wages that leave them in poverty. In 2001 they launched a campaign calling for a boycott of Taco Bell. The CIW wanted better and safer working conditions and better pay. In 2005, the campaign came to a successful end.

In subsequent struggles, the following fast food chains have signed similar agreements with the CIW: McDonald’s (in 2005, when Chicago DSA first got involved with the CIW); Burger King and Subway. Over time, improvements have been made to the code of conduct. In addition to fast food chains, the following food service providers have signed the code of conduct: Bon Appetit Management Co., Compass Group, Aramark and Sodexo. Two grocery chains, Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s have also come to agreement with the CIW. A major victory was with the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange. This is the marketing cooperative of the tomato growers who actually employ the tomato pickers. For years, they refused to acknowledge the CIW. The agreement between the Exchange and the CIW extends coverage to more than 90% of the Florida tomato pickers.

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Trader Joe’s Caves to Coalition of Immokalee Workers, Signs Fair Food Agreement

by Josh Eidelson

Months-long pressure campaign pays off

The dispute has been going strong for some time. Here, a CIW supporter pickets a Trader Joe's in Manhattan on February 28, 2011 (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

On Thursday, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers announced it had signed a Fair Food Agreement with Trader Joe’s, a significant step forward its efforts to bring fairness and accountability to the food industry.  “We are truly happy today to welcome Trader Joe’s aboard the Fair Food Program,” CIW’s Gerardo Reyes said in a joint statement issued by CIW and Trader Joe’s.  “Trader Joe’s is cherished by its customers for a number of reasons, but high on that list is the company’s commitment to ethical purchasing practices.”

The same statement, which the company has posted as a letter to customers on its website, hails Fair Food as “a groundbreaking approach to social responsibility in the U.S. produce industry that combines the Fair Food Code of Conduct…with a small price premium to help improve harvesters’ wages.” Trader Joe’s did not respond to a request for further comment.

But it wasn’t long ago that activists were carrying “Traitor Joe’s” banners, and Trader Joe’s was condemning Fair Food Agreements as “overreaching, ambiguous, and improper.”

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Defining Fair Food: CIW Launches New Campaign

by Chris Hicks

Last Monday, Jobs With Justice ally the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) launched a new campaign and video demanding that supermarkets step up to the plate and treat workers fairly.

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Newly Opened Trader Joe’s Greeted by Protesters Supporting Tomato Pickers

by Arieh Lebowitz

August 19th, NYC: The Jewish Labor Committee joined nearly 100 people at a demo in front of a newly opened Trader Joe’s store in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, to inform consumers about the human rights abuses against farm workers harvesting the tomatoes sold by the company, and to demand that the company sign a fair food agreement with the  (CIW), which is the central organization fighting for these farm workers, who need better wages and more humane standards in the fields. The protestors also called on the company to buy only from growers who meet these standards. Other large corporations such as Whole Foods, Subway, Burger King and McDonald’s have already signed similar agreements with the CIW.

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CIW, Sodexo reach agreement

Student/Farmworker Alliance

August 23, 2010 – Yet another chapter in the historic alliance between students and farmworkers has been written today, as Sodexo becomes the fourth leading food service provider (following Bon Appetit Management Co., Compass Group, and Aramark) and ninth corporation overall to heed the demands of the Campaign for Fair Food and partner with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers to systematically root out poverty and abuse from Florida’s fields.

Read the reaction from the CIW and the joint CIW/Sodexo statement here.

With this victory, the Student/Farmworker Alliance’s Dine with Dignity campaign — launched just 16 months ago with the goal of organizing student power to demand the immense college and university food service industry support principles of Fair Food — has come to a successful conclusion. Just as in the monumental Boot the Bell campaign, student organizing on campuses across the country proved decisive in bringing some of the world’s largest food corporations to the table.

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NYC DSAers tell Trader Joe’s to Pay Farmworkers a Fair Wage

By Maria Svart

On Thursday, March 18th, NYC DSAers rallied with activists from Jobs with Justice and the Alliance for Fair Food in front of the Trader Joe’s supermarket in Union Square. We expressed our solidarity with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) in their fight to get a just wage for the hardworking men and women who pick tomatoes for Trader Joe’s.

This wasn’t my first time standing up for farmworkers. My Young Democratic Socialists chapter at the University of Chicago campaigned to Boot the Bell from the U of C because Taco Bell was refusing to give a penny-per-pound raise to tomato pickers represented by CIW. By now, Taco Bell, Subway, Burger King and even anti-union Whole Foods pay a fair wage to farmworkers.

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Thirty Seconds Over Burger King

by Bob Roman

On May 23rd, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) and Burger King held a joint news conference in Washington, DC, to announce an agreement to directly pay workers who pick the tomatoes that Burger King buys an additional penny per pound. The agreement goes beyond previous agreements in that Burger King is also offering the employers of the tomato pickers an additional half cent per pound to cover the additional payroll taxes and administrative expenses.

The agreement also establishes zero tolerance guidelines for certain unlawful activities, requiring immediate termination from the Burger King supply chain of any grower in violation, and provides for farm worker participation in the monitoring of growers’ compliance with the company’s vendor code of conduct.

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Sen. Bernie Sanders on Slavery Verdict in Immokalee, Florida

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a member of the Senate labor committee, made the following statement on Sept. 3  regarding the recent guilty plea by five residents of Immokalee, Florida to enslaving and brutalizing farm workers:

“I think most Americans would find it hard to believe that people in our country are pleading guilty to slavery charges in the year 2008, but that is what is going on in the tomato fields of Florida. And, of course, this is not the first case. It is the sixth successful slavery prosecution which has resulted in the freeing of about 1,000 workers.
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Victory for CIW Sets Stage for Expanded Campaign for Justice

Stuart Elliott

A long, public campaign led by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a community-based worker organization, achieved a landmark victory on Friday May 23 when an agreement with fast-food giant Burger King was announced at a Washington, D.C. news conference. The agreement, similar to earlier deals with McDonalds and Yum! Brands, should result in a dramatic increase in the wages of the tomato pickers. The agreement will increase payment to workers by one cent a pound. Doesn’t sound like much, but it means that for every 32-pound bucket of tomatoes they pick, the workers will earn 77 cents, instead of 45 cents. That is a 71 percent increase. At the old wage, the pickers typically earned $10,000 to $12,000 a year. The victory was the culmination of an year-long campaign supported by union, student, religious, and community activists. (For accounts of CIW’s earlier campaign against McDonalds, see the YDS blog here and the Chicago DSA here. For YDS involvement in the Burger King campaign here.)

But there is still a struggle ahead. Florida growers are still resistant to participating in the program. (This article has a good discussion on the growers on-going stinginess.) The deal with Burger King actually includes an extra half cent a pound for the growers in addition to the penny for the workers.) And, for the thousands of agricultural workers not covered by this agreement, the question is whether this tremendous victory can be leveraged into successful campaigns not only against other fast food companies , specialty grocers like Whole Foods, but big grocery chains like Wal-mart and Safeway. The CIW appears ready to continue, will their allies–students, churches, unions–be equal to the challenge?

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