Backed by Whole Foods, Florida tomato pickers gain in penny fight
Wake up and good morning. Here's another modest coup for Florida's tomato pickers. Two Florida farms -- Lady Moon Farms outside Punta Gorda and Alderman Farms, both medium-sized family farms that sell organic produce -- agreed to help increase the wages of the state's tomato pickers in a deal with a farmworker advocacy group and upscale Whole Foods Market.
The Coalition of Immokalee Workers and Whole Foods said the farms will pay pickers 1 cent more per pound of tomatoes sold to the Austin, Texas, based company. Whole Foods will foot the bill. Locally, Whole Foods operates a store in Tampa on North Dale Mabry. (Pickers photo courtesy of Coalition of Immokalee Workers.)
Lady Moon and Alderman are the first Florida tomato growers to sign agreements with Whole Foods Market in support of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ "penny-per-pound" program, designed to improve wages for tomato harvesters.
“Lady Moon and Alderman Farms are examples of Florida growers that we are proud to support,” said Karen Christensen, global produce coordinator for Whole Foods Market, in a company statement. “These farms are long-term partners of Whole Foods Market and we look forward to continued growth together."
According to the Immokalee coalition, the 2-farm deal effectively breaks a stalemate established nearly two seasons ago when the Florida Tomato Growers Exchangethreatened to fine any member $100,000 that sold tomatoes under the terms of the CIW agreements. At that time, the coalition says, two Florida growers who had been passing on the penny-per-pound increase under the Taco Bell agreement ceased doing so. Check out this PBS report on the original Taco Bell/tomato victory and this photo essay.
Florida workers earn about 47 cents per 32-pound bucket. That can mean an average of about $12 an hour during the picking season for the hardest workers, usually immigrants who receive no health insurance nor overtime. Here's a more in-depth story from AP.
Meanwhile the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange, a cooperative, points out that the tomato pickers continue to exaggerate the difficulties of their working conditions. Notes the Exchange: Florida tomato harvesters earn an average of $12.46 per hour, more than double the current federal minimum wage of $5.85 per hour and nearly double Florida’s minimum wage of $6.79. The coop also cites increasing cost competition for Florida growers from Mexico, as explained in this recent Miami Herald story.
-- Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist