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 member of the 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. One federal prosecutor once called Florida "ground zero" for modern slavery.
But the workers are fighting back, and tremendous change is happening in the fields because of these workers. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) has organized workers to work for safety and dignity in the Florida tomato fields. The CIW’s Fair Food Program 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 implement the Fair Food Prorgam, bringing human dignity to the fields and passing on the penny per pound paid by the 12 participating corporations. Since the Fair Food Program has been implemented in the fields of more than 90% of Florida's tomato fields, no new cases of slavery have been found in participating farms, making the FFP the most successful slavery prevention program in the United States. As the Fair Food Program expands to other states, more corporations must sign on to solidify these tremendous gians.
Since 2011, T'ruah has been the major Jewish ally of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, bringing more then 50 rabbis to learn about this groundbreaking campaign and inspiring Jewish communities around the country to join in the new day dawning in the tomato fields of Florida.
Join T'ruah and the CIW to support the human rights of farmworkers and call on grocery stores and restaurant chains to sign onto the Fair Food Program.
- 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
On November 21, an exciting new documentary about CIW will premiere in theaters around the country. "Food Chains" is a wonderful opportunity to teach your community about the CIW's Campaign for Fair Food and the tremendous changes happening in the Florida tomato industry, thanks to the leadership of farmworkers and the support of allies around the country: students, activists, and people of faith.
About the film:
Food Chains exposes the abuse of farmworkers within the United States and the complicity of the multibillion dollar supermarket and fast food industries. There is more interest in food these days than ever, yet there is very little interest in the hands that pick it. Farmworkers, the foundation of our fresh food industry, are routinely abused and robbed of wages. In extreme cases they can be beaten, sexually harassed or even enslaved – all within the borders of the United States.
Food Chains reveals the human cost in our food supply and the complicity of large buyers of produce like fast food and supermarkets. Fast food is big, but supermarkets are bigger – earning $4 trillion globally. They have tremendous power over the agricultural system. Over the past 3 decades they have drained revenue from their supply chain leaving farmworkers in poverty and forced to work under subhuman conditions. Yet many take no responsibility for this. The narrative of the film focuses on an intrepid and highly lauded group of tomato pickers from Southern Florida – the Coalition of Immokalee Workers or CIW – who are revolutionizing farm labor. Their story is one of hope and promise for the triumph of morality over corporate greed – to ensure a dignified life for farm workers and a more humane, transparent food chain.
To learn more about the film, including where it is showing and how to bring it to your local theater, click here.
Resources from T'ruah