(UPDATED COVERAGE, Nov. 18) Signaling an end to years of hostility, the Florida tomato industry has signed an agreement with a labor group whose goal is to improve working conditions.
On Nov. 16, the Maitland-based Florida Tomato Growers Exchange and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers signed what they call a “historic breakthrough in Florida’s tomato fields.”
Participating exchange grower members have agreed to pass to workers an additional penny-per-pound of tomatoes picked, paid by tomato buyers. They’d also be subject to audits to oversee the program. Growers will also participate in the CIW’s “Fair Food Code of Conduct,” scheduled to be fully implemented at the start of the 2011-12 season.
With the exception of three smaller companies that the exchange hasn’t had time to communicate with (as of Nov. 17), all of the state’s growers have agreed to the deal, said Reggie Brown, the exchange’s executive vice president.
He said the tomato association hasn’t taken a position on the issue and that the deal only involves individual growers.
In the fall of 2009, Mulberry, Fla.-based East Coast Brokers and Packers Inc. became the first large grower-packer to enter in agreement with the CIW. In October, Palmetto, Fla.-based Pacific Tomato Growers Ltd., became the first large exchange member to sign a separate agreement with the CIW followed a couple of weeks later by Six L’s Packing Co. Inc., Immokalee, Fla.
Brown said the deal shows how Florida’s growers value their employees.
“They are the key to our ability to growing tomatoes and we couldn’t do it without them,” he said. “We are and have been committed to long term solutions to improving the lives of farmworkers and their families.”
While growers have long had concerns over the CIW’s requests, Brown said in recent months they’ve engaged in “enough dialogue to satisfy their questions and concerns” and decided to develop business solutions to handle those fears.