Image: Institute for Southern Studies
Pacific Tomato Growers, one of the largest tomato producers in the U.S., agreed last week to a penny-per-pound wage increase for the people who work the tomato fields. Some of the country's biggest tomato buyers, including McDonald's and Whole Foods, are on board, in a major victory for the Florida-based Coalition of Immokalee Workers, one of the hardest-working human rights organizations in the country.
The agreement with Pacific was covered all over the place, but it was followed by a second breakthrough: an agreement with Six L's, Florida's largest tomato grower, to join CIW's Fair Food program.
But the problem is not just tomatoes, and it's not just in Florida.
Both agreements are huge steps: CIW has been publicizing the plight of farmworkers and pushing for a wage increase for years. The increase, when fully implemented, will boost farmworkers' pay from 45 to 77 cents per bucket—an increase of thousands of dollars from the average $10,000 annual salary.
To be fair to other farmworkers, however, more improvements are needed. Alternet summed up some of the problems that are endemic to agriculture nationwide:
• Farmworkers today are generally young men who have left their families seeking work
• 50% have never seen a dentist
• One-third have never seen a doctor
• Agricultural workers toil under some of the most dangerous conditions of employment with 39.5 fatalities for every 100,000 employees in 2008.
• Child labor in agriculture is legal. The Fair Labor Standards Act regarding child labor sets the minimum age of agricultural workers at 12 and 16 for everyone else.
Local farms, including the ones you shop from at your local farmer's market, are not necessarily excluded from this conversation, so asking farmers next time you go shopping for produce about their working conditions is a good first step in learning more about how your food was picked.
Bigger steps, of course, are needed. Colorlines recently outlined reforms that would help the five labor sectors that probably endure the hardest conditions and the worst pay and treatment in the U.S.: day laborers, domestic workers, tipped workers, workfare workers, and farmworkers.
Visit the Coalition of Immokalee Workers to learn more about the conditions of tomato-picking, which on several occasions have been found to be true modern slavery, and remember that the same hardships are endured on all types of fruit and vegetable farms, abroad as well as here in the U.S.
More on farmworkers and fair labor
World Foodless Day
United Farm Workers to America: Take Our Jobs (UPDATED, with VIDEO)
The TH Interview: John Bowe, Author of "Nobodies: Modern American Slave Labor and the Dark Side of the New Global Economy"