January 2014, Volume 20, Number 1
The Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a 20-year old organization of tomato pickers, was given the Four Freedoms Medal in October 2013 for its Fair Food Program, which requires buyers of Florida mature green tomatoes to pay an extra 1.5 cents a pound for the Florida tomatoes they buy. Growers pass on the extra funds to tomato pickers.
The CIW says that 11 firms have joined the Fair Food Program, including McDonald's, Subway, Burger King and Taco Bell (Yum! Brands), paying extra for the tomatoes they buy. The CIW has been trying to get Publix, a major grocery chain based in Florida, to join its Fair Food Program since 2009.
The CIW is considered a workers' center rather than a union, meaning that it does not report its membership and income and expenses to DOL as unions do (www.unionreports.gov). There are over 200 workers' centers around the US, and many receive support from unions and foundations to provide legal and other support to farm workers. Unlike unions, workers' centers do not have constitutions and elections to select leaders.
The CIW has received significant support from the Kellogg and Kresge foundations. According to a report by the US Chamber of Commerce, Kellogg provided the CIW with $1.3 million between 2009 and 2012 and Kresge provided $2.6 million between 2010 and 2012. The Public Welfare Foundation provided $1.2 million to the CIW's Fair Food Program.
NC. The Ohio-based Farm Labor Organizing Committee in October 2013 announced that it would try to persuade 5,000 workers employed on North Carolina tobacco farms that do not belong to the North Carolina Growers Association to become members. FLOC says that it represents 7,000 H-2A workers brought into North Carolina from Mexico by the NCGA; the NCGA says FLOC represents 2,000 workers.
FLOC President Baldemar Velasquez traveled to the UK in December 2013 to press British American Tobacco to join its campaign to have Reynolds America sign an agreement with FLOC that sets wages and benefits for workers employed by the growers that produce its tobacco; BAT owns 42 percent of Reynolds America. Reynolds says that it has no control over wages and working conditions on farms that produce tobacco, and that federal and state laws regulate wages and working conditions on farms. FLOC's campaign against Reynolds America began in 2007.
Reynolds America formed a committee that met three times with other tobacco manufacturers, growers, advocacy groups and labor officials in 2012-13 to discuss worker conditions, and provided $140,000 to Telamon to improve housing on North Carolina farms that hire seasonal workers. Underwriters Laboratories audited the North Carolina farms that grow tobacco for Reynolds and reported that 95 percent provided a safe environment for workers and 73 percent provide documented health and safety training to workers.
Bottomley Evergreens & Farms (www.bottomleysevergreens.com) in western North Carolina has 1,200 acres of pumpkins and Christmas trees. Bottomley employs a peak 1,000 seasonal workers, and in 2009 settled a suit alleging that it underpaid some workers.
Manheim, Jarol. 2013. The Emerging Role of Worker Centers in Union Organizing. US Chamber of Commerce. www.workforcefreedom.com/publications/new-study-emerging-role-worker-centers-union-organizing-strategic-assessment