Farmworkers in Florida’s tomato fields won a significant victory yesterday – the North Carolina-based supermarket chain, The Fresh Market, agreed to support more humane farm labor standards and fairer wages. Despite doing vital — and often grueling — work to bring food to the table, farmworkers are the second lowest paid workers in the US (after domestic workers), and are excluded from most major labor protection laws. Over 70% of farmworkers were born outside the US, and over half are undocumented.
Started in southwest Florida in 1993, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers has challenged the exploitation and abuse of farmworkers through organizing in communities and in the fields. In recent years, the coalition has partnered with consumers and ally groups to target large-scale corporate buyers. After analyzing the economic conditions, they found that major purchasers like supermarket chains and fast food companies have more power to set prices, and consequently deny or agree to increased pay and improved conditions.
The Coalition of Immokalee workers has been remarkably successful in pressuring fast food chains – like Taco Bell, Burger King, and McDonald’s – to join the Fair Food Program, and last January won a huge victory when Walmart agreed to their conditions. Supermarket chains have proven less receptive, with the exceptions of Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, so this recent victory is a big step forward in the fight for fairer wages for all.