I reported a few days ago that a deal was imminent; now it’s official: Whole Foods has signed an agreement with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers to pay an extra penny-per-pound for Florida tomatoes. The raise will go directly into the pockets of some of the lowest-paid workers in the United States.
In addition, the press release states, Whole Foods is working with the CIW to create a "domestic purchasing program to help guarantee transparent, ethical and responsible sourcing and production." The natural foods giant already has such a program in place for products it buys from developing countries.
The Coalition of Immokalee workers first approached Whole Foods on March 14, 2007, when it sent a letter to CEO John Mackey asking the company to agree to the penny-a-pound wage hike, as industrial-food giant Taco Bell already had. Here’s an excerpt:
[T]he notion of sustainability in agriculture is widely understood to include three distinct but interdependent dimensions — economic, environmental, and social. And among those three dimensions, social sustainability — and specifically the treatment of farm labor — has seen the least amount of progress in US agriculture. In fact, it is no exaggeration to say that farmworker conditions in the fields today, and in particular the tomato fields of Florida where our members work, constitute nothing less than a human rights crisis.
The US Department of Labor (DOL) has described farmworkers as “a labor force in significant economic distress.” Tomato pickers earn about 45 cents for every 32-lb bucket of tomatoes they pick, working from dusk to dawn without the right to overtime pay. The 45-cent piece rate hasn’t changed in nearly 30 years. As a result, farmworker wages fall beneath the federal poverty level. The DOL reports that farmworkers earn an average of only $7,500-$10,000 per year. Of course, the vast majority of farmworkers receive absolutely no benefits — no health insurance, no sick leave, no vacation pay — and have no right to organize to address these conditions on their own.
Whole Foods is now the first grocery store to agree to the raise. May others follow suit.