Fair Food Program Brings Labor Issues Awareness To Florida

Tomato pickers run to a truck to deposit tomatoes they've harvested on a Fair Food Program Farm. Paid by the piece, in order to make minimum wage, farmworkers have to pick over two and a half tons of tomatoes each day.
Tomato pickers run to a truck to deposit tomatoes they\’ve harvested on a Fair Food Program Farm. Paid by the piece, in order to make minimum wage, farmworkers have to pick over two and a half tons of tomatoes each day.” credit=”Forest Woodward / Photo courtesy of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers

For many Florida farmworkers, the workday starts at dawn and ends at dusk. There are no bathroom breaks, no lunch breaks, no clean water. Sexual harassment, an under-reported issue on many farms, may go unpunished.

And at the end of the week, workers may take home as little as $50.

The Fair Food Program, established by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, collaborates with other groups to change that reality. Corporations that sign the Fair Food Agreement agree to fix conditions for workers, from ensuring they get lunch breaks to investigating complaints of sexual assault.

“It’s stuff that you and I, working somewhere else, would take for granted,” said Sheila Payne, a board member of the Alachua County Labor Coalition, which works with the Immokalee coalition.

Payne grew up working in the tomato fields of South Florida.

She said in the past, women who worked in the fields hesitated to report incidences of sexual harassment or violence because some of the women were undocumented workers.

Nely Rodriguez said in the six years she has been a CIW member, she has seen an increase in the number of sexual assaults that are reported on Fair Food Farms, which she views as an improvement.

“They [female farmworkers] feel like they have a voice to say something,” Rodriguez said.

Another key-component is a raise in wages.

Payne said workers are paid about 1 cent per pound of produce they harvest, equivalent to about $12,000 a year. The Fair Food Program includes an additional 1 cent per pound, which doubles farmworkers’ wages.

As a result of the increase,  $15 million went directly to tomato farmworkers between 2011 and 2014, according to Rodriguez.

Workers are also guaranteed a minimum wage regardless of how many buckets of produce they harvest, said CIW member Yaissy Solis. This ensures workers are able to rely on a minimum wage even during a slow harvest.

The program uses advocacy events, marches and protests to rally for safer working conditions and increased wages for farmworkers.

More than 20 growers and thirteen corporations have signed the Fair Food Agreement. Still, the coalitions continue to push for more businesses to adopt the program across Florida.

Some of the businesses that have signed the agreement include Trader Joe’s, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Subway, Wal-Mart and Taco Bell.

One large Florida chain that has not signed on, though, is Publix.

The Immokalee and Alachua County coalitions held a protest near Publix at Millhopper Shopping Center because the company refuses to negotiate. Both coalitions have focused on Publix, one of the largest grocery chains in the state with 760 stores.

Dwaine Stevens, media and communication relations manager for Publix’s North Florida and Orlando locations, said in an email Publix’s position with the CIW can be found on the corporate website. According to the site, Publix does not get involved in labor disputes because responsibility for farmworker wages and conditions remains with suppliers.

The groups plan to continue to rally at Publix locations in Florida. They want to give farmworkers everywhere the treatment they deserve.

About Taylor Bello

Taylor is a reporter for WUFT News who may be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news @wuft.org

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