Chalk up another one for the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), the Florida-based community organization that has been trying for decades to improve the grim lot of migrant tomato pickers, most of whom toil for less than minimum wage. This week, ARAMARK, the giant corporation that supplies food to universities, hospitals, stadiums, and other institutions around the world, announced an agreement with the coalition that gives workers 1.5 cents more per pound for the produce they pick.
It doesn’t sound like much when you pay $2 to $3 per pound for tomatoes in the grocery store, but it effectively doubles the going rate to workers. Instead of $50 on a good day, a picker can make $100. Even more important, ARAMARK will also insist that growers who supply it adhere to a strict code of ethics developed with input from the farmworkers themselves.
Over the past five years, the coalition has been successful in convincing seven other large chain restaurant chains, food service companies, and supermarkets to accept similar agreements. “Together with ARAMARK and our other partners, we are building a system of real accountability with tangible consequences for growers who fail to protect farmworkers’ basic rights,” said the CIW’s Lucas Benitez, in a statement.
There are still some obvious holdouts. The most glaring is Publix Supermarkets, Inc., which operates 1,000 stores across the Southeast and whose Lakeland, Fla. head office is barely 100 miles from the fields of Immokalee. For five years the CIW has been trying to get Publix to do what ARAMARK and the other corporations have done, to no avail.
“We have a long-standing policy of not intervening in labor disputes,” Maria Brous, Publix’s director of media and community relations, said to me in an interview late last year.
The coalition points out that this is not a labor dispute. To bring that message home , it is sponsoring a Farmworkers Freedom March from Tampa to Publix’s headquarters April 16 through 18.