Pacific Tomato strikes deal with Coalition of Immokalee Workers - The Packer

Pacific Tomato strikes deal with Coalition of Immokalee Workers

10/13/2010 02:37:24 PM
Doug Ohlemeier

Pacific Tomato Growers Ltd. has signed an agreement with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and is calling on the industry to improve farmworker working conditions.

The deal makes the Palmetto, Fla.-based Pacific the first active member of the Florida Tomato Exchange to directly work with the CIW.

Jon Esformes, Pacific’s operating partner and chief marketing officer, said Pacific’s owners felt it was time to join with the labor group and take a stand against labor abuse cases.

He said it is critical that farmworkers have the same protections white collar workers.

“Abuses have happened in agriculture,” he said. “We felt it is time the industries start to speak up and speak out loud and publicly about some of these practices that have led to some of these cases over the years and how unacceptable they are. We view this as an opportunity to partner with CIW and raise the awareness of social accountability in agriculture with the public. For us, you wake up and you realize that maybe this is something we could have done yesterday, but I am certainly not going to wait until tomorrow.”

Esformes said Pacific plans to honor agreements the CIW has in place with buyers and that the deal includes auditing of the mechanism to pass the money directly to workers who will see the “penny per pound” increase as a line in their paychecks.

Last fall, Mulberry, Fla.-based East Coast Brokers and Packers Inc., which grows in Florida, South Carolina and Virginia, became the first large commercial Florida tomato grower and packer to partner with the CIW by entering into a “penny per pound” agreements with Denver-based Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. and contract foodservice purveyor Compass Group North America.

Batista Madonia Jr., vice president of sales and operations, also resigned his company’s membership in the tomato exchange.

Reggie Brown, Maitland-based exchange manager, said the exchange has no restrictions prohibiting exchange members from striking deals with labor groups such as the CIW.

“We don’t have a position on the CIW,” Brown said. “We have been offering a pass-through program to our customers going back as far as January. Independent businesses have the freedom to make whatever business decisions they want to make.”

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