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.”

Esformes said  he thinks industry competitors will respect Pacific’s decision.

He said Pacific plans to remain an exchange member and said he hopes it may encourage other tomato packers to sit down at the table with the CIW.

In a news release, CIW spokesman Lucas Benitez said the agreement represents a major step forward in CIW's fight for labor reforms in Florida's tomato industry.

“Not only is it the first formal agreement between CIW and a major tomato grower, but the new accord establishes several practical systems designed to implement cooperatively the key principles of the Code of Conduct at the heart of the Campaign for Fair Food,” he said. “Those principles include a joint — and, when need be, external — complaint resolution system, a participatory health and safety program, and a worker-to-worker education process aimed at insuring that farmworkers themselves are active participants in the social responsibility efforts.

Additionally, the deal includes third party auditing of the conduct code and complaint resolution system and payment of the penny-per-pound increase in wages.

Pacific Tomato Growers is part of the Sunripe-branded companies that pack and distribute tomatoes from Florida, Virginia, California and Mexico.

(Note on correction: The original article mischaracterized Pacific Tomato Growers’ agreement with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.
Pacific Tomato is calling on the industry to only improve working conditions.)



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