Joblessness and low-wage jobs grab headlines and hearts, but right now we have a chance to back folks who were losing ground way before the Great Recession.
Meet the workers of Immokalee, Florida, who pick our tomatoes but make just 50 cents for filling each 32-pound bucket. In real terms, tomato pickers today actually earn about half, for each bucket, what they earned 30 years ago.
In other words, just to get the minimum wage a tomato worker has to pick more than 2.25 tons of tomatoes during a day that begins before dawn and lasts 10-12 hours. That's almost double the amount a worker had to pick to earn the minimum wage thirty years ago.
So, if the 1980 piece rate of 40 cents per 32-lb bucket had simply kept up with inflation, today farm workers should get $1.06/bucket in 2010 -- not 50 cents.
The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) is an amazingly effective group of farm workers empowering themselves. They ask our simple actions of support, right now:
Here's the deal:
Because of the CIW's ingenious, persistent efforts over years, four huge fast-food companies have signed Fair Food agreements with them -- committing to that critical one more penny a pound, as well as a code of conduct that protects workers' basic rights! They are McDonald's, Yum Brands, Burger King and Subway. Three large food service providers also signed: Compass Group, Aramark and Sodexo.
Now's the moment to focus on the half-a-trillion dollar supermarket industry, asking them to join Whole Foods, who got fairer nearly two years ago by signing the CIW agreement. But other major grocery chains resist. So the Coalition of Immokalee Workers needs us. They are calling on us to get some backbone, too, and participate in the Campaign for Fair Food .
Here's what they ask us to do right now:
Send an email today to the CEO's of Publix, Ahold, Kroger and Trader Joe's to demand "they quit stalling and start working with the CIW to protect human rights in their Florida tomato supply chain."
And there are other actions we can take to get into the thick of this much-overdue step for basic justice.
Save these dates...
- Sunday February 27th, when you can join Immokalee farm workers and allies from across the country in Quincy, Massachusetts, for a protest at Ahold's U.S. headquarters (Ahold is the parent company for Stop & Shop and Giant). Then, a week-long tour down the east coast.
- Saturday, March 5th, ditto in Tampa, Florida: a second major action in Publix's backyard.
Not motivated enough yet to tell the supermarket execs what you think?
Remember that farm workers have no right under law to overtime pay or to organize unions for collective bargaining. Farm workers were excluded from key New Deal labor protections, including the National Labor Relations Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act.
And, the seasonal and unpredictable nature of agricultural work mean that average unemployment among farmworkers is double those of wage and salary workers.
Thank the Coalition of Immokalee Workers for getting this far, so we can act now on behalf of the most exploited, moving our country one step toward the fair working conditions we all deserve.
Follow Frances Moore Lappe on Twitter: www.twitter.com/fmlappe