Our VoiceNews & Politics

Food workers struggle for justice with tomato pickers in Immokalee

Carlos Rich • Mar 16, 2011

Earlier this month, I along with a few workers from the Midwest joined hundreds of protesters and Immokalee workers in Tampa, Florida.  This effort to bring more attention to the plight of food workers started in the northeast and made stops in New York and Atlanta.  The effort targeted large grocery retailers such as Publix and Trader Joe’s, and asked that they “Do the right thing” when it comes to ensuring that workers receive fair wages.

The Immokalee workers for example pick tomatoes for wages that are too low. Florida’s tomato harvesters are still paid by the piece. The average piece rate today is 50 cents for every 32-lb of tomatoes they pick, a rate that has remained virtually unchanged since 1980.

Workers must pick more than 2.25 tons of tomatoes to earn minimum wage in a typical 10-hour workday, most farmworkers at Immokalee today earn less than $12,000 a year.

We were eager to join the farmworkers in their struggle to earn one more penny.  One of the workers that accompanied me to Tampa said, “When I was chanting ‘one penny more, one penny more,’ I felt that I was a part of something big.”

She went on to say that she was glad that we decided to go to Tampa and experience the energy that was there; it made her want to work hard to get others involved in her community to be aware of the issues.  She told me that she would talk to her children and she will teach them now to be more aware where their food comes from.

Edith, another worker who joined us, led our presentation as a part of the Food Chain Workers Alliance (FWCA). The FCWA took part in a performance in front of the Publix grocery store, where the march ended. Edith also attended a march in Washington DC back in November.  She had a great experience there and was happily surprised to see many of the same folks in Tampa.

The Center for New Community participates in the Food Chain Workers Alliance; a coalition of worker-based organizations whose members plant, harvest, process, pack, transport, prepare, serve, and sell food, organizing to improve wages and working conditions for all workers along the food chain.

According to a statement by the Food Chain Workers Alliance (FCWA):

11 of the 12 member groups of the Food Chain Workers Alliance converged in Florida! We first participated in actions in Tampa focused on Publix as part of Alliance member the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ Do the Right Thing Tour.  Publix still refuses to sign on in support of the CIW’s Fair Food principles, including an extra penny per pound paid to the farmworkers, a strict code of conduct, a cooperative complaint resolution system, a participatory health and safety program, and a worker-to-worker education process.

See photos on the FCWA Flickr page and videos on  channel.

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