Thursday, September 24, 2009

Florida tomato grower strikes his own deal to raise workers' wages, may break impasse

A long-running quest of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers to increase wages for migrant farmworkers in Florida may have reached an important turning point. East Coast Growers and Packers has reached an agreement with Denver-based burrito company Chipotle to pay workers an addition penny per pound for all Chiptole tomatoes they pick, Elaine Walker of the Miami Herald reports. The agreement will cause a 64 percent increase in the price per 32-pound bucket. (Herald photo by Nuri Vallbona)

The agreement comes after several years of negotiations between CIW, a farmworker activist group, and various restaurants to increase worker wages. The group had reached deals with Burger King, McDonald's, Subway, Taco Bell and Whole Foods, but most of that money is still sitting in escrow accounts, never reaching workers, Walker reports. East Coast decided to break from the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange, which had threatened to fine members who participated in the agreements, in making the deal with Chipotle.

"I would rather be unpopular with my competition and do the right thing,'' East Coast sales manager Batista Madonia Jr. told Walker. "I believe when you do the right thing for your worker, it gives you a better worker and a better company.'' Madonia says he's already entered negotiations with other chains about similar deals. We previously reported about CIW's agreements with Yum! Foods and Burger King in 2007 and 2008 respectively. (Read more)

UPDATE 9/28: The CIW and East Coast have reached an agreement with The Compass Group, which operates 10,000 cafeterias in public schools, hospitals and government buildings including the U.S. House of Representatives, to pay an additional 1.5 cents per pound of tomatoes. One cent per pound will go directly to the workers, Jane Black reports for The Washington Post. Compass subsidiary Bon Appetit Management Co. threatened to not serve tomatoes in any of its cafeterias this winter if no tomato grower would agree to pass on the extra penny to workers. (Read more)

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