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April 2014, Volume 20, Number 2

Florida, Southeast

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a 20-year old organization of tomato pickers, came under fire from the business-backed Worker Center Watch (www.workercenterwatch.com/ciw-penny-plunder-campaign). The CIW's Fair Food Program requires buyers of Florida mature green tomatoes to pay an extra 1.5 cents a pound for the Florida tomatoes they buy. Growers keep 0.2 cents of this additional payment to cover their costs, and pass 1.3 cents of the extra funds on to tomato pickers.

The Sarasota-based Fair Food Standards Council monitors compliance on participating tomato farms.

The CIW says that 12 major tomato buyers have joined the Fair Food Program, including McDonald's, Subway, Burger King and Taco Bell (Yum! Brands). In January 2014, Wal-Mart, the nation's largest food retailer, joined the Fair Food Program. The announcement said that tomato pickers were earning 50 cents per 32-pound bucket, and that the extra penny a pound would raise their piece rate to 82 cents.

The CIW said in 2014 that its penny-a-pound campaign generated an extra $11 million for workers since 2005.

Worker Center Watch calls the CIW's campaign a "penny plunder campaign," noting that former tomato pickers have sued the CIW for not receiving the extra penny-a-pound. In 2011, Florida Legal Services sued the CIW on behalf of 16 tomato pickers who worked from 2007 to 2010 but did not receive penny-a-pound payments.

The CIW says that it is too hard to find tomato pickers from previous years, so it provided payments to current workers and spent the rest of the penny-a-pound funds on education and leadership development. Florida Legal Services wants to see the agreements between the fast-food firms and the CIW, but the CIW says that these agreements are confidential.

The CIW has been targeting Publix, a privately held grocery store chain based in Florida, since 2010. Publix says that the CIW dispute is between growers and workers, and has refused to meet with the CIW. The CIW is also picketing Wendy's to get the fast-food chain to join the Fair Food Program.

North Carolina. The Farm Labor Organizing Committee in October 2013 announced that it would try to persuade H-2A workers brought to North Carolina tobacco farms by the North Carolina Growers Association to become FLOC members. Elizabeth Bunn, director of organizing for the AFL-CIO, said in March 2014: "You will see, in the coming months, unions with more resources helping the poorest of the poor, the tobacco workers in North Carolina."

FLOC says that it wants to represents all of the 7,000 H-2A workers brought into North Carolina from Mexico by the NCGA. The NCGA says FLOC now represents 2,000 H-2A workers, most of whom are in North Carolina between April and October and pay 2.5 percent of their wages to the union. FLOC will begin its organizing campaign in eastern North Carolina and focus on "housing, dignified bathrooms and mattresses; work conditions (such as) water, breaks and pesticide protection; and wages."

FLOC reported 1,800 members to the AFL-CIO in 2008, and 2,000 members in 2013.

The International Association of Machinists, which represents workers at Richmond, Va.-based Philip Morris USA, a division of Altria, promised to provide FLOC with two Spanish-speaking organizers. In 2013, North Carolina enacted a law that makes it unlawful to condition the purchase of agricultural products "upon an agricultural producer's status as a union or non-union employer" or on "entry into or refusal to enter into an agreement with a labor union or labor organization."

Georgia. The Vidalia onions grown in 20 counties in southern Georgia are worth $150 million a year begin arriving in grocery stories in mid-April. The Vidalia Onion Committee set the first legal shipping date at April 21, 2014, prompting the largest grower, Delbert Bland, to sue to ship Vidalia onions sooner. The marketing season has been stretched from the usual April-June months to year round, as Vidalia growers import sweet onions from Peru and Mexico and pack them in Vidalia to sell onions year round.


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