Who picks the food that you eat? How much are they paid? Would you pay a penny more for better wages for the workers who pick your food? Every year, from September until May, millions of tomatoes are harvested by farm-workers in Florida and shipped all around the country. But their earnings have not changed in 30 years. As Gerardo Reyes, a leader of Coalition of Immokalee Workers, told T'ruah rabbis: "We want dignity. We want the ability to feed our families and not rely on handouts."
Because of exemptions related to farm-workers in American labor law, farm-workers are paid by the pound, not by the hour: $0.50 for every 32 pound bucket of tomatoes they pick (We pay $75-80 in the store for the same 32-pounds of tomatoes). At these rates, most workers make well below the minimum wage, for an average annual salary of about $10,000. This holds true for workers who are here both legally and illegally. The farm-workers who pick tomatoes in Florida also face extreme pesticide exposure and unsafe working conditions. Meanwhile, cases of human trafficking and slavery are rampant. One federal prosecutor has called Florida "ground zero" for modern slavery.
But the workers are fighting back. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) has organized workers to work for safety and dignity in the Florida tomato fields. The CIW’s Campaign for Fair Food raises the wages of tomato pickers by one penny a pound and ensures fair, regulated working conditions in the fields to end the conditions that have led to widespread labor trafficking and slavery. They have already successfully campaigned fast food chains such as Taco Bell and McDonald's, food service companies, and the grocery stores Walmart, Whole Foods, and Trader Joe's to sign Fair Food Agreements, which commit the companies to only source from growers who have instituted a legally binding code of conduct in the fields.
In the fall of 2010, the CIW scored a major victory when the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange agreed to phase-in the Fair Food Code of Conduct and to pay their workers one penny more a pound for tomatoes. T'ruah has joined with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) to support their efforts in the Campaign for Fair Food and to raise awareness in the Jewish community about the critical issues of slavery and human trafficking in the United States.
Join T'ruah and the CIW in the fight for slavery-free tomatoes and call on grocery stores and restaurant chains to sign Fair Food Agreements with the CIW.
- Fair Food Campaign Resources from the CIW and T'ruah
- Take Action: Grocery Stores
- Take Action: Wendy's
- Rabbinic Missions to Florida
Watch the Tomato Rabbis in Action