Posts tagged Coalition of Immokalee Workers

¡Chipotle, escucha: estamos en la lucha!

Fellow workers,

Here is what Coalition of Immokalee Workers organizer Lucas Benitez had to say at a press conference celebrating the C.I.W.’s remarkable victory in the Burger King penny-per-pound passthrough campaign:

Dr. Martin Luther King said it best when he said, The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

Social responsibility in this country’s food industry is inevitable, and though the exploitation of Florida’s farmworkers remains unconscionable today, company by company we are building a path toward justice. The next steps are up to those companies that stand before us in the road ahead.

There are companies — like Chipotle in the restaurant world and Whole Foods in the grocery industry — that already make claims to social responsibility yet, when it comes to tomatoes, fall far short of their lofty claims. It is time, now, that those companies live out the true meaning of their marketers’ words.

And there are companies — like Subway and WalMart — that, by the sheer volume of their purchases, profit like few others from the pernicious poverty of workers in Florida’s fields. They, too, must step up now. After eight years of this campaign — and the very public commitment of the three largest fast-food companies in the world to the principles of Fair Food — they can no longer claim ignorance of the problem nor can they say that the solution is not possible.

So to all of you who have marched with us, organized petition drives with us, prayed with us, and struggled with us, today is a day to celebrate this hard-fought victory. Tomorrow, with renewed energy and purpose, we begin our work again to make respect for fundamental human rights in Florida’s tomato fields truly universal.

— Lucas Benitez, quoted in Coalition of Immokalee Workers Breaking News (2008-06-09): The Road Ahead in the Campaign for Fair Food!

The C.I.W. and the Student-Farmworker Alliance are taking the fight to Chipotle, a corporation supposedly priding itself on food with integrity, with whom they have repeatedly tried to meet for negotiations, but who responded by claiming that they would investigate (ah, investigation; cf. suggestions #3 and #6), and, in the meantime, would suspend buying from Florida growers (!), rather than simply taking direct action, as they easily could, to raise Florida tomato-pickers piece rate by passing through the extra penny per pound. In April, C.I.W. and SFA organized protests at Chipotle headquarters in Denver. The C.I.W. has released a one page letter that you can print and deliver to the manager of your local Chipotle restaurants. I’m not a fan of the complaints of being excluded from the normal regime of federal labor regulation on wages, conditions, and organizing; the denial of that bureaucratic crutch and shackle is precisely what has freed the C.I.W. to use the kind of fight-to-win tactics that they are using, and to win the impressive victories that they have won. Other than that regrettable cap-doffing to the State labor bureaucracy, however, it’s clear, to the point, and offers a quick and easy opportunity for you (yes, you) to get involved in the beginnings of what’s sure to emerge as another creative, powerful, and ultimately victorious bottom-up, decentralized campaign of agitation and radical labor solidarity. Here’s the text of the letter:

Dear Chipotle Manager,

Chipotle Mexican Grill has been presented with the opportunity to foster real social responsibility in its tomato supply chain by working with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), an organization of farmworkers that has been internationally recognized for its work defending basic human rights. Instead, Chipotle claims to have suspended purchases of Florida tomatoes while it unilaterally investigates already well-documented human rights abuses in Florida’s fields.

The supposed need for an investigation of the human rights crisis in Florida’s fields today is mystifying. According to readily available Department of Labor statistics, tomato pickers in Florida face deplorable conditions, including:

  • Sub-poverty wages — Tomato pickers make, on average, $10,000/year;
  • No raise in nearly 30 years — Pickers are paid virtually the same per bucket piece rate (roughly 45 cents per 32 lb. bucket) today as they were in 1980. At today’s rate, workers have to pick nearly 2.5 TONS of tomatoes just to earn minimum wage for a typical 10-hr day;
  • Denial of fundamental labor rights — Farmworkers in Florida have no right to overtime pay, even when working 60-70 hour weeks, and no right to organize or bargain collectively.

Even worse, numerous modern-day slavery rings, in which workers are held against their will and forced to work through violence or threats of violence, continue to operate in the fields. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) has assisted the Department of Justice in uncovering, investigating, and successfully prosecuting 5 such cases — involving more than 1,000 workers — since 1997.

The three largest fast-food companies in the world have recognized these dehumanizing conditions and moved to address them, giving workers new hope for meaningful reform in the nation’s agricultural industry. In 2005, after a 4-year national consumer boycott, Yum Brands (parent company of Taco Bell, KFC, Pizza Hut and others) reached an historic agreement with the CIW to directly improve wages and working conditions in its tomato suppliers’ operations by paying a penny more per pound for its tomatoes and working with the CIW to implement an enforceable code of conduct to protect farmworkers’ rights. McDonald’s and Burger King followed suit in 2007 and 2008, respectively, reaching agreements with the CIW that met and expanded upon the Yum! Brands accord. All three fast-food leaders have recognized the fact that their high volume purchases of tomatoes give them the leverage they need to demand more humane working conditions in their suppliers’ fields.

Chipotle however, has remained indifferent to the deplorable conditions faced by workers in its tomato supply chain. Nearly two years have passed since Chipotle launched its investigation and many questions now beg to be answered. Where are the results of Chipotle’s inquiry into Florida’s farm labor conditions? Where has Chipotle been purchasing tomatoes in the meantime, and how do workers fare in those fields? Is Chipotle actually supplying its East Coast restaurants with tomatoes from Mexico (the only other viable option to Florida tomatoes during nearly half the year), despite the immense increase in the cost and carbon footprint of Chipotle’s food that would result from such a decision? Or is Chipotle still in fact purchasing Florida tomatoes, despite its claims to have suspended purchases from Florida? Are transparency and human rights not a part of Chipotle’s definition of Integrity?

Please contact Chipotle Corporate Headquarters in Denver and let them know that you and your customers want them to join with Yum, McDonald’s and Burger King as leaders in true corporate social responsibility by:

  • Paying a penny more per pound for the tomatoes that Chipotle purchases and ensuring that this increase is passed along to tomato pickers in the form of increased wages; and

  • Working with the CIW to implement an enforceable code of conduct to ensure fair and safe working conditions for farmworkers in Chipotle’s tomato supply chain.

Thank you.

— Coalition of Immokalee Workers, Dear Chipotle Manager

Print yourself out a copy and deliver it to your local Chipotle to explain why this issue will affect your burrito-purchasing decisions in the future.

More action alerts and a flyer about Chipotle that you can hang locally are promised soon. Keep an eye out for it: this should get interesting, and there’s likely to be a lot more to come.

Victory to the farmworkers!

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Even better than I thought: victory for the Coalition of Immokalee Workers against the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange, too

On Friday I mentioned that the Coalition of Immokalee Workers had just announced victory in the Burger King penny-a-pound pass-through campaign. It turns out that the news is even better than I thought. The news reports that have come out since the announcement reveal that not only did Burger King agree to join the penny-a-pound, but the Florida Tomato Growers’ Exchange (the cartel and legislative lobby which represents 90% of Florida tomato farm owners) has also substantially caved in the face of pressure from the CIW and its supporters. Although they are still saying that member farms should not participate, they’ve given up on the hardball tactics they were trying to use to enforce cartel discipline.

Whether workers actually get the increase hinges on tomato growers’ participation.

McDonald’s and Yum! Brands, the world’s biggest fast-food chain and restaurant company, respectively, already have agreed to the raise; Yum!, parent company of Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and more, signed on in 2005; McDonald’s in 2007.

Workers got the extra money for two seasons, then the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange threatened $100,000 fines to any grower member who participated, which stalled the payouts. They’ve since been collecting in escrow. About 90 percent of the state’s tomato growers belong to the exchange.

But the exchange announced Thursday it would no longer threaten members with those fines, said executive vice-president Reggie Brown, in response to inordinate and inappropriate focus on the (fines) by the media.

— Amy Bennett Williams, Ft. Myers News-Press (2008-05-24): Tomato pickers celebrate deal with Burger King

Brown is still muttering baseless and murky threats about federal antitrust laws and how participating in the pass-through program could somehow subject growers to lawsuits. (Subjected to lawsuits by whom? Is that supposed to be a prediction or a threat?) So there is still a danger of some very dirty pool and government union-busting here. But the FTGE looks like it’s on the ropes, and their retracting the threat of fines makes it much more likely that individual farm owners will begin participating in the pass-through program again, if nothing else as an incentive for attracting workers away from non-participating farms — an incentive which it costs the farm owners nothing to offer.

In the meantime, the fast-food participants have announced that they will continue to honor the penny-per-pound agreement and pay into the escrow account in case growers change their minds:

McDonald’s and Yum Brands, the world’s biggest fast-food chain and restaurant company, respectively, have agreed to the raise …. Yum, parent company of Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and more, signed on in 2005; McDonald’s in 2007.

Workers received the extra money for two seasons, but then the threatened fines from the exchange stalled payouts. Both companies have been honoring the agreement with the raise amount collecting in escrow.

They say they will continue to honor the agreement.

It’s the right thing to do, and we encourage others to follow our lead, said Taco Bell spokesman Rob Poetsch. While we continue to set aside monies for the affected workers, we’re disappointed that the intended recipients are being penalized.

Now that the threat of fines is gone, members and supporters of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers are wondering what it might mean.

If the (threats of fines) are in fact being lifted, that would be good news, said coalition co-founder Lucas Benitez. We hope our agreements with Yum and McDonald’s will be allowed to again function as they had in the past and workers received a fairer wage.

— Amy Bennett Williams, Ft. Myers News-Press (2008-05-23): Tomato growers’ group relents on imposing fine for giving pickers raise

Eric Schlosser, who has been doing some very good work in reporting on the C.I.W.’s struggle, offers an analysis that combines some incredibly muddled history with some admirably clear-sighted analysis of the current position of the C.I.W. within the farmworkers’ struggle:

This may be the most important victory for American farmworkers since passage of California’s Agricultural Labor Relations Act in 1975. That bill heralded a golden age for farm workers. But the state government apparatus it created, the Agricultural Labor Relations Board, got taken over by the growers in the 1980s and watered down the reforms. In Florida, the Coalition has chosen a different path, avoiding government and putting pressure on the corporations at the top of nation’s food chain. The strategy clearly works and can be emulated by other workers in other states. In the absence of a government that cares about the people at the bottom, here’s a way to achieve change.

–Eric Schlosser, quoted by Katrina vanden Heuvel, The Nation (2008-05-23): Sweet Victory: Coalition for Immokalee Workers Wins

The muddle, of course, has to do with the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board and the mythical golden age for farmworkers. Actually the ALRB is exactly what strangled the dynamism of the once-vibrant United Farm Workers, by pulling California farmworkers’ unions into the smothering embrace of bureaucratic patronage, which had strangled the dynamism of the rest of the labor movement for decades under the Wagner/Taft-Hartley system — thus capturing a once revolutionary movement and converting it into just another arm of the State-domesticated labor establishment. It should be no surprise that within a decade the ALRB had been completely captured by the farm bosses; government boards are always captured by the most powerful and best-connected players. Any look at history or at the basics of political economy should quickly demonstrate that Schlosser’s in the absence of is really a statement of universal truth, not a remark on the sad state of affairs today: there will never be a government that cares about the people on the bottom. It’s the State that largely puts them on the bottom in the first place and then keeps them there. Any scraps that it may throw down from the master’s table are intended to keep the rest of us just barely fed enough to keep begging, instead of giving up and taking matters into our own hands.

What Schlosser is right about is that the C.I.W.’s strategy works, and deserves emulation. What I’d want to add, and stress, is that it works not despite the fact that they have avoided entangling themselves in the government labor bureaucracy; it works because they have. The C.I.W. has won all these struggles precisely because they have used creative fight-to-win tactics (especially secondary boycotts) that would be completely illegal if they were subject to the bureaucratic discipline of the NLRB. It’s precisely the freedom that they enjoy as a wildcat union, ineligible for NLRB recognition, which has allowed them to disregard the usual modesty in demands and politeness in means that the Taft-Hartley rules demand.

These victories with the FTGE and Burger King are not the end. The C.I.W. has announced that it will now challenge grocery stores and other fast food restaurants to join Yum Brands, McDonald’s, and Burger King in the pass-through agreement. Every victory in this campaign has made the next victory come quicker: the Taco Bell boycott took four years for victory (from 2001 to 2005); the C.I.W. won an agreement from McDonald’s after two years of active campaigning (from March 2005 to April 2007); and these victories in campaigns against Burger King and the FTGE took just over one year (from April 2007 to May 2008). Lucas Benitez has indicated that the C.I.W. will most likely target Chipotle and Whole Foods next — that is, major tomato buyers who each have a significant stake in maintaining a brand image of corporate social responsibility. There’s good reason to hope that the trend will continue and these campaigns will lead to a speedy victory.

Fellow workers, this past week’s victories for creative extremism and wildcat unionism are both an inspiration and a reminder. We should never forget that the workers have more power standing with our hands in our pockets than all the wealth and weapons of the plutocrats and politicians. Yes, we can do it–ourselves. And we will.

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¡Sí se puede! Victory for the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in the Burger King penny-per-pound campaign

It’s a busy day today, especially on the activist front, so I won’t have much to add by way of comment until I’ve had a bit of time to sit down and breathe. But I just got this news via e-mail and it made me so happy that I had to post something to share the good news as soon as possible:

WASHINGTON – May 23, 2008 – The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) and Burger King Corp. (NYSE:BKC) today announced plans to work together to improve wages and working conditions for the farmworkers who harvest tomatoes for the BURGER KING® system in Florida.

BKC has agreed to pay an additional net penny per pound for Florida tomatoes to increase wages for the Florida farm workers who harvest tomatoes. To encourage grower participation in this increased wage program, BKC will also fund incremental payroll taxes and administrative costs incurred by the growers as a result of their farmworkers’ increased wages, or a total of 1.5 cents per pound of tomatoes.

BKC also joins other fast-food industry leaders and the CIW in calling for an industry-wide net penny per pound surcharge to increase wages for Florida tomato harvesters.

Together, BKC and the CIW have also established zero tolerance guidelines for certain unlawful activities that require immediate termination of any grower from the BURGER KING® supply chain. The BKC/CIW collaboration additionally provides for farmworker participation in the monitoring of growers’ compliance with the company’s vendor code of conduct.

John Chidsey, chief executive officer of Burger King Corp., said, We are pleased to now be working together with the CIW to further the common goal of improving Florida tomato farmworkers’ wages, working conditions and lives. The CIW has been at the forefront of efforts to improve farm labor conditions, exposing abuses and driving socially responsible purchasing and work practices in the Florida tomato fields. We apologize for any negative statements about the CIW or its motives previously attributed to BKC or its employees and now realize that those statements were wrong. Today we turn a new page in our relationship and begin a new chapter of real progress for Florida farmworkers.

For more than 50 years, BKC has been a proud purchaser and supporter of the Florida tomato industry. However, if the Florida tomato industry is to be sustainable long-term, it must become more socially responsible. We, along with other industry leaders, recognize that the Florida tomato harvesters are in need of better wages, working conditions and respect for the hard work they do. And we look forward to working with the CIW in the pursuit of these necessary improvements. We also encourage other purchasers and growers of Florida tomatoes to engage in dialogue with the CIW in support of driving industry-wide socially responsible change.

Lucas Benitez of the CIW added, The events of the past months have been trying. But we are prepared to move forward, together now with Burger King, toward a future of full respect for the human rights of workers in the Florida tomato fields. Today we are one step closer to building a world where we, as farmworkers, can enjoy a fair wage and humane working conditions in exchange for the hard and essential work we do everyday. We are not there yet, but we are getting there, and this agreement should send a strong message to the rest of the restaurant and supermarket industry: Now is the time to join Yum! Brands, McDonalds, and Burger King in righting the wrongs that have been allowed to linger in Florida’s fields for far too long.

U.S. Senator Richard Durbin (IL-D): I applaud Burger King for announcing today that it will be providing an extra penny per pound to the tomato pickers of Immokalee, Florida and establishing a zero-tolerance policy for worker abuses in the region. Today’s announcement is a major step forward in improving the wages and working conditions of the Immokalee workers. I call on other purchasers of the region’s tomatoes and the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange to join Burger King and do the right thing for these workers.

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (VT-I): I have been to Immokalee and seen first-hand the conditions for farm workers there, perhaps the most exploited workers in America. I am very pleased that Burger King has agreed to help the tomato pickers who have worked for too long for too little. I know that this has been a long and hard road for Burger King, and I believe the American people will appreciate what they are doing. I hope now that other corporations will join Burger King, McDonalds and Yum Brands in doing the right thing.

The CIW has ended its campaign against BKC and its franchisees and will work with the company to further foster improvements and sustainable changes throughout the Florida tomato industry. The CIW and BKC will also work together toward development of an industry-wide vendor code of conduct and increased worker wages through encouragement of full buyer and grower participation.

— Coalition of Immokalee Workers Breaking News (2008-05-23): Burger King Corp. and Coalition of Immokalee Workers to Work Together

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May Day 2008

There will be a time when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today!

–Last words of August Spies (1887-11-11), immigrant, anarchist, and Haymarket martyr

Fellow workers:

Today is May Day, or International Workers’ Day, a holiday created by Chicago workers–most of them anarchists–to honor the memory of the Haymarket martyrs and to celebrate the struggle of workers for freedom, for a better life, and for control over the conditions of their own labor. It was created during the radical phase of the struggle for an eight-hour day: after legislative campaigns by the Knights of Labor and the National Labor Union failed, labor radicals in Chicago — organizers like Albert Parsons, Lucy Parsons, August Spies — declared that workers should take matters into their own hands, in the form of direct action on the shop floor. Workers would no longer try to get an eight-hour day by promising a useful and compliant voter base in return for patronage from politicians. To get an eight-hour shift, workers would make their own: in many shops, workers in the International Working People’s Association would bring their own whistle to work and blow it at the end of an eight hour shift — at which point most or all of the workers on the floor would just get up and just walk off, like the free people they were, whether or not the boss demanded more hours of labor. At the height of the struggle, they organized a General Strike, in defiance of the bosses and in spite of repeated violence from the Law.

Today is also the third annual day of rallies, strikes and marches against the criminalization of immigrant workers. A day which immigrant workers have chosen for actions against the bigotry of nativist bullies, the violence of La Migra, and the political system of international apartheid, as contemptible as it is lethal. A day to proudly proclaim We are not criminals and We are not going anywhere, to demand the only political program that recognizes it — open borders and unconditional amnesty for all undocumented workers.

And it is a joy for me to read that today is also a day of strikes against the bosses’ war in Iraq, which will shut down all the sea ports on the west coast of the United States, as an act of defiance against the State war machine and against the worthless political opportunists who promise to end it while voting, over and over again, to sustain it:

Amid this political atmosphere, dockworkers of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union have decided to stop work for eight hours in all U.S. West Coast ports on May 1, International Workers’ Day, to call for an end to the war.

This decision came after an impassioned debate where the union’s Vietnam veterans turned the tide of opinion in favor of the anti-war resolution. The motion called it an imperial action for oil in which the lives of working-class youth and Iraqi civilians were being wasted and declared May Day a no peace, no work holiday. Angered after supporting Democrats who received a mandate to end the war but who now continue to fund it, longshoremen decided to exercise their political power on the docks.

— Jack Heyman, San Francisco Chronicle (2008-04-09): Longshoremen [sic] to close ports on West Coast to protest war

The Longshore workers have the explicit support of postal workers in New York and San Francisco, and I hope this will be only the beginning of ongoing, widespread industrial action to end a war that political action — even after two election cycles, after hundreds of millions of dollars, after countless hours of lobbying and electioneering, after a change in government, and with the backing of an overwhelming supermajority of the populace — has proven completely incapable of ending.

This is May Day as it is and ought to be. A Day of Resistance against the arrogance and power of bosses, bordercrats, bullies, and the Maters of War, who would harass us, intimidate us, silence us, exploit us, beat us, jail us, deport us, extort us, and do anything else it takes to stop us from coming into our own. A day to celebrate workers’ struggles for dignity, and for freedom, through organizing in their own self-interest, through agitating and exhorting for solidarity, and through free acts of worker-led direct action to achieve their goals, marching under the banners of We are all leaders here and Dump the bosses of your back. A day to remember:

There Is Power In A Union

There is power, there is power,
In a band of working folk,
When we stand
Hand in hand.

–Joe Hill (1913)

Radio Bilingüe has a list of immigration marches and rallies across the country today. I plan to be at the mitin in Las Vegas tonight:

  • Las Vegas immigrant rights mitin (rally)
  • Tonight, May 1, 2008, 7:00 PM
  • Federal Courthouse, 333 Las Vegas Blvd S.

Meanwhile, in the news, some useless idiot is wandering around Washington proclaiming Law Day, accosting hundreds of millions of complete strangers to tell them to put on ceremonies in praise of his own power to do the beating, jailing, deporting, etc. In Istanbul, organized workers marched to Taksim Square in defiance of the Turkish government, which has declared their free assembly illegal, and which has deployed government riot cops to attack them with firehoses and tear gas. In Harare, organized workers are holding rallies today to call attention to the devastating effect of the government’s hyperinflationary money monopoly on workers’ wages–and an apparatchik of the Zimbabwean government–one of the most violently anti-worker governments in the world–is taking the opportunity to wear a concerned expression and assure that Government would at all times endeavour to make sure that workplaces were monitored through inspections to minimize hazards that might injure or kill them. (No word yet on whether the hazards the inspectors will be inspecting for include the Zimbabwe Republic Police or the Central Intelligence Organization.) We must never forget what this band of creeps and fools is doing their best to remind us of — that the State is the most deadly weapon of our enemies, and that it is a weapon that we will never be able to wield for ourselves without chaining ourselves to politics and destroying the very things we meant to fight for.

In this season and in these days, in the midst of Babel during its most raucous festival–when so much of what we see and hear are the endless shouts of professional blowhards who know of no form of social change other than political change, and who know of no site of political change other than the gladiatorial arena of electoral politics, and who seem to know of no form of electoral politics other than polling, horse-trading, and endlessly shouting about a series of nomenklatura-contrived issues, which boil down to little more than a media-facilitated exchange of racist, sexist, ageist, and authoritarian barbs among the nomenklatura-approved serious candidates–it’s important to remember that, in spite of all the noise and spectacle, the most significant events for labor and for human freedom are happening in the streets of cities all over the country and all over the world, where workers are organizing among themselves, demanding their rights, fighting for their lives, and defying or simply bypassing the plutocrats and their so-called laws. In the U.S.A., while the punch-drunk establishmentarian labor movement reels from one failure to another, some of the most dynamic and successful labor struggles in the past few years have been fought by a grassroots union organized along syndicalist lines without NLRB recognition, using creative secondary boycott tactics which would be completely illegal if they had submitted to the regulatory patronage of the Wagner-Taft-Hartley system. There is a lesson here–a lesson for workers, for organizers, for agitators, and anti-statists. One we’d do well to remember when confronted by any of the bosses–whether corporate bosses or political, the labor fakirs and the authoritarian thugs styling themselves the vanguard of the working class, the regulators and the deporters and the patronizing friends of labor all:

Dump the Bosses Off Your Back

Are you cold, forelorn, and hungry?
Are there lots of things you lack?
Is your life made up of misery?
Then dump the bosses off your back!

–John Brill (1916)

Happy May Day, y’all.

Elsewhere Today:

Further reading: