Tomato pickers' pennies pile up, but out of reach

Tomato pickers in Immokalee have reached agreements with Taco Bell, Burger King, McDonald’s and Subway for a bit more compensation, although most of the extra cash is in escrow accounts.

BILL SERNE | Times (2006)

Tomato pickers in Immokalee have reached agreements with Taco Bell, Burger King, McDonald’s and Subway for a bit more compensation, although most of the extra cash is in escrow accounts.

Taco Bell. McDonald's. Burger King. And now, Subway. The activist group called the Coalition of Immokalee Workers last week got another fast-food chain to agree to pay more for tomatoes.

With 24,000 U.S. stores and its "$5 footlong" advertising jingle, Subway agreed to match Burger King and pay an additional 1.5 cents per pound to cover any administrative costs and ensure that at least a penny ends up being put aside for workers. Subway's deal also allows for a monitoring system to ensure the money is passed on to workers.

Subway is the biggest fast-food buyer of Florida's $619-million annual tomato crop.

There's just one catch: A lot of the additional money collected has yet to reach the tomato workers. The Florida Tomato Growers Exchange has refused since last year to allow any of its members to participate in the agreements. Two growers originally participated in the Taco Bell deal for two years, but the McDonald's and Burger King deals have never been implemented.

That money from the fast-food chains is piling up in bank escrow accounts waiting for disbursement to workers, the Miami Herald reported.

"With every new company that signs on, it provides a lot of incentive for a forward-thinking grower to be willing to pass on the penny per pound," coalition spokeswoman Julia Perkins told the Herald.

Last week's agreement with the farmworker activist group scuttled protests planned in Miami and — no doubt of greater concern to Subway — a march to the company's corporate headquarters in Milford, Conn. Immokalee is inland from Fort Myers and Naples.

• • •

It all started as just Emerge Tampa, but the group of business up-and-comers ages 21 to 35 is now Emerge Tampa Bay and is a joint program of the chambers of commerce in both Tampa and Clearwater.

Last week, the expanded group named the members of its 2009 leadership team. The team includes program chair Mike Blasco, who handles business development from the Garcia Seufert Architecture firm; Interact (networking) segment co-chairs Meggan Mabry, assistant account manager at ChappellRoberts, and A.J. Blackstone, financial adviser at Levin Financial Group; Talk (public relations) segment co-chairs Carissa Caricato, marketing director at Crisis Center of Tampa Bay, and Ryan Freking, associate at Studley Inc.; Voice (public affairs, government) segment co-chairs Chris Rosbough, a police officer with the Tampa Police Department, and Michael Lortz, senior analyst at Lockheed Martin Corp.; Grow (leadership, career development) segment co-chairs Shantae Gilmer, work force services manager at Tampa Bay WorkForce Alliance Inc., and Blake Hayden, benefits producer at Brown & Brown of Florida Inc.; Connect (community involvement) segment co-chairs De'Nicea Hilton, advancement coordinator at the Florida Aquarium, and Kristin Kramer, education market account manager with AVI SPL; and Build ("building connections across Tampa Bay") segment co-chairs David Arch, sales executive at Brown and Brown, and Erisa Isak, head teller at BankUnited.

Tomato pickers' pennies pile up, but out of reach 12/07/08 [Last modified: Sunday, December 7, 2008 8:05pm]

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