PC(USA) leaders praise Florida farmworkers deal

CIW, tomato growers agree on improved wages, working conditions

November 18, 2010

Three men sitting at a table with microphones, while two write on paper.

Lucas Benitez of the CIW and Reggie Brown of the FTGE sign the fair food agreement as Gerardo Reyes Chavez of the CIW looks on. —Photo courtesy of CIW.

LOUISVILLE

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) leaders here are praising an historic agreement signed Tuesday (Nov. 17) between the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) and the growers of more than 90 percent of Florida’s winter tomato crop that will boost Florida farmworkers’ wages and working conditions.

The landmark deal caps more than a decade of attempts by the CIW to reach agreement with the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange (FTGE) on a comprehensive labor pact in Florida’s fields.

In a joint statement issued Nov. 18, General Assembly Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons and General Assembly Mission Council Executive Director Linda Valentine said: "History is being made right now and we intend to work together until our food system flourishes by ensuring human rights and well-being.  We applaud the agreement between the CIW and the FTGE for making critical strides toward that day."

After a four-year boycott of Taco Bell backed by the PC(USA) — the 2002 General Assembly endorsed it — the CIW reached its first agreement in 2005 with Louisville-based Yum! Brands. The deal included improved working conditions for Florida’s tomato pickers, most of whom are from Mexico, Guatemala and Haiti and a wage increase of  one cent per pound of tomatoes picked.

Farmworkers are among the lowest-paid and most exploited laborers in the United States, according to the Department of Labor. Their median annual salary is $7,500, far below the poverty line.

In following years McDonald's (2007), Burger King (2008), Whole Foods and Subway (2009) signed separate agreements with CIW, despite opposition from the FTGE, which successfully prevented the individual deals from being implemented by its members.

The tide turned in 2009, when East Coast Packers resigned its membership from the FTGE in order to implement the fair food agreements with the CIW.  And on Oct. 10 of this year the largest grower in the nation, Pacific Tomato Growers and the largest tomato grower in Florida, Six L’s Packing Company, both signed direct fair food agreements with the CIW while maintaining their membership in the FTGE.   

The Rev. Noelle Damico of the Presbyterian Hunger Program, who coordinates the PC(USA) Campaign for Fair Food, told the Presbyterian News Service: "Fifty years ago, Edward R. Murrow’s Harvest of Shame exposed our nation to the appalling conditions of farmworkers.  These conditions have persisted to our day in the norm of poverty wages and the extreme of modern-day slavery. With this historic agreement between the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange, we are witnesses to the beginning of a harvest of hope, whose glorious fruit is human rights."

The battle for farmworkers' rights is not over, Damico said. "The time is ripe for the supermarket industry, particularly Publix, Kroger and Ahold, to join this growing partnership among farmworkers, growers, corporations, and consumers that is creating a food system that ensures human rights and well-being for all."

Parsons and Valentine agreed, saying: "If fair food principles are to be fully realized for every farmworker across the industry, supermarkets must also embrace them. We are hopeful, that grocery industry leaders will step forward without delay and lend their support to this proven paradigm of social responsibility, so that fair food principles may be fully realized."

The full text of the Nov. 18 statement by Parsons and Valentine:

Commendation of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange on their Historic Fair Food Agreement

On behalf of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) we commend the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange on their groundbreaking agreement to work together to advance human rights for farmworkers laboring in Florida’s tomato fields.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) endeavors to cultivate and observe socially responsible purchasing practices within our own institution, among our members and within our broader society.  And so we celebrate the fundamental progress this agreement represents for farmworkers and the tomato industry.

This concrete, rigorous and comprehensive implementation of advances in worker rights is demonstrating that the tomato industry can be competitive and accountable, productive and fair.  More than a vision, it incarnates fair food principles into verifiable and measurable changes in operation bringing immediate benefits and contributing to lasting change. 

The Apostle Paul's image of the church as a body with many members who need one another to function well is an apt image for all human endeavor.  All members are important and necessary.  This agreement embodies a collaborative approach to ensuring a more modern and humane industry by drawing upon the unique power not only of farmworkers and growers but also of corporations and consumers.  We each have our invaluable role to play in seeing that these bourgeoning advances reach their fullest potential.

Therefore we take this opportunity to call on the supermarket industry, in particular Publix, Kroger and Ahold, to join this growing partnership of corporations, growers, farmworkers and consumers.  If fair food principles are to be fully realized for every farmworker across the industry, supermarkets must also embrace them.  We are hopeful, that grocery industry leaders will step forward without delay and lend their support to this proven paradigm of social responsibility, so that fair food principles may be fully realized.

History is being made right now and we intend to work together until our food system flourishes by ensuring human rights and well-being.  We applaud the agreement between the CIW and the FTGE for making critical strides toward that day.

  1. You can be assured that the Tomato growers will develop a variety that can be harvested mechanically, just as the Sugar Cane growers did, the Presbyterians might better use their resources to save themselves,rather than mess with tomato pickers, caterpillar, and Isreal. God Save Us All.

    by John Chilberg

    December 3, 2010

  2. Congratulations to your denomination for the important role you played in securing justice and better working conditions for farm workers. That is Christian social action at its very best. Now if you can achieve the same success introducing irreligious people to Jesus as you once did, your denomination can turn itself around and start growing again.

    by Jim Caraher

    November 28, 2010

  3. Great news...Ecumenical Christian Ministries at U. of Kansas has been involved with this for 4 years, having sent delegations to Florida and vigils/demonstrations in Lawrence, Kansas. This week we have been involved with asking Dillons/Kroger grocery , which has headquarters in Kansas to have the workers "at the table" and delivered a letter on Tuesday to their headquarters. The letter was signed by 12 clergy in Lawrence, including Kent Winters-Hazelton of First Presbyterian and Bill Woodard of West Side Presbyterian and myself with ECM (Presbyterian, United Church of Christ, Quaker, Church of the Brethren). Students have received support in their efforts from the faith community...for many this has been a realization that the church can be an advocate for change and hear the call for justice.

    by Thad Holcombe, Campus Minister for ECM at U. of KS

    November 18, 2010

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