Posts tagged Whole Foods

Victory to the farmworkers! Coalition of Immokalee Workers announces that Subway has signed on to the penny-per-pound pass-through agreement

Fellow workers,

The Blockheads of the world may insist that unions survive only through violence, and win only through either the intervention of the State or vigilantism against non-unionized fellow workers. Yet somehow, today, I find this message from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers — and a similar e-mail from their allies in the Student/Farmworker Alliance — a southern Florida farmworker’s union that uses nonviolent protest, secondary boycotts, and other creative pressure campaigns on behalf of Florida tomato pickers, and which (because it is a farmworkers’ union) has no access at all to the government labor relations bureaucracy. Somehow, they have survived. Somehow, they have won — again.

From: Coalition of Immokalee Workers
Date: 11:29 AM
To: announce@lists.ciw-online.org
Subject: [CIW News] SUBWAY SIGNS!

Subway, the third largest fast-food chain in the world and the biggest fast-food buyer of Florida tomatoes, reached an agreement this morning with the CIW to help improve wages and working conditions for the workers who pick their tomatoes!

Be sure to visit http://www.ciw-online.org for a photo of the signing and check back soon for more details about this exciting development in the Campaign for Fair Food.

If you are planning a protest as part of the Northeast tour, we ask you to stand down. The tour will still be hitting the road to visit Northeast with news of this newest victory and information on where the Campaign for Fair Food will head next. An updated schedule of events will be posted on the website soon.

Thanks,

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers

For those keeping track at home, here’s the timeline of C.I.W. victories in the penny-per-pound campaign:

  • April 2001: C.I.W. launches the Boycott the Bell campaign against Taco Bell, the first campaign to pressure a fast food restaurant into joining the penny-per-pound pass-through program to improve the piece rate for Florida tomato pickers.

  • March 2005 — 4 years later: The C.I.W. announces victory in the Taco Bell campaign after four years of negotiations, boycotts, protests, and, finally, a hardball campaign to enlist sympathetic student groups to Boot the Bell by pressuring their colleges and high schools to cancel or call off food-service contracts with Taco Bell. Taco Bell now becomes the first fast food provider to voluntarily pass through money to increase farmworkers’ wages. The C.I.W. announces that it will now turn its attention to getting similar agreements from other large fast-food chains like McDonald’s and Burger King.

  • April 2007 — 2 years after that: The C.I.W. announces victory with a penny-per-pound agreement from McDonald’s. It takes two years of negotiations and a low-intensity pressure campaign; just after the C.I.W. announces it is about to escalate with another Taco Bell-style boycott and Truth Tour, McDonald’s signs on for the agreement. The C.I.W. announces that it will organize its next campaign, focusing on Burger King.

  • May 2008 — 1 year after that: The C.I.W. announces victory with a penny-per-pound agreement from Burger King after a year of negotiations, some very dirty dealing by Burger King (most of which came back to haunt them when it was exposed), public protests by the C.I.W. and its allies, and national press attention from journalists who supported the C.I.W. and opposed Burger King’s union busting tactics. 13 months after the C.I.W. began its Burger King campaign, Burger King announces that it will sign on for the penny-per-pound agreement. The C.I.W. announces that it will organize campaigns to get new agreements from fast-food restaurants and grocery stores like Whole Foods, Subway, and Chipotle, which sell themselves as healthy, sustainable businesses.

  • September 2008 — 4 months after that: The C.I.W. announces victory with a penny-per-pound agreement from Whole Foods. The C.I.W. announces that it will turn its attention to escalating their campaigns to win similar agreements from Subway and Chipotle.

  • December 2008 — 3 months after that: After seven months of negotiations, and three months of a low-intensity pressure campaign (focusing on getting supporters to send postcards to Subway’s CEO), the C.I.W. announces plans to launch a multi-city protest Truth Tour in the northeast. Just before the tour begins, Subway agrees to sign on to the penny-per-pound agreement.

If the accelerating trend continues, we can expect the next C.I.W. victory to be announced some time around late January or February. (Except for Whole Foods being two months early, the time it takes for each new victory has consistently followed a geometric decay curve. That can’t last forever, but here’s hoping it holds for a while yet.) In any case, this is a big win, and it’s hardly the end. The C.I.W. is still fighting to get an agreement from Chipotle, and is preparing to organize pressure campaigns for other supermarkets and food service outfits. There’s a lot more yet to come.

Fellow workers, the C.I.W.’s ongoing series of inspiring victories for Florida farmworkers are both an inspiration and a reminder. We should never forget the power of creative extremism and wildcat unionism — a power that needs no government, no ballot boxes, no political bosses, no Officially Recognized labor bureaucrats, no lawyers, and no Changeling political parties. It’s the power that fellow worker Joe Ettor reminded us all of, as he and his fellow workers struggled to a hard-won victory in the great Bread and Roses textile strike of 1912, when he said:

If the workers of the world want to win, all they have to do is recognize their own solidarity. They have nothing to do but fold their arms and the world will stop. The workers are more powerful with their hands in their pockets than all the property of the capitalists. As long as the workers keep their hands in their pockets, the capitalists cannot put theirs there. With passive resistance, with the workers absolutely refusing to move, lying absolutely silent, they are more powerful than all the weapons and instruments that the other side has for attack.

Yes, we can do it—ourselves. And we will.

¡La lucha sigue—victory to the farmworkers!

See also:

¡Sí se puede! Coalition of Immokalee Workers announces another victory in penny-per-pound agreement with Whole Foods

Fellow workers,

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a community-based union in Central Florida that has been winning a series of remarkable victories on wages and conditions for Florida farmworkers, with no government recognition and through the creative use of secondary boycotts and other forms wildcat unionism, has just announced another major victory in the struggle. After the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ hard-won victory in the struggle to make Burger King sign on to the penny-per-pound passthrough agreement, here’s what C.I.W. organizer Lucas Benitez had to say about the future of the 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!

And yesterday, the C.I.W. announced the first victory in these new campaigns: they have won an agreement for Whole Foods to participate in the penny-per-pound campaign, and to begin crafting purchasing standards for labor conditions in the fields.

Whole Foods Market Signs Agreement with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) to Support Penny-per-Pound Tomato Program in Florida

Company Also Exploring Program to Help Guarantee Ethical Sourcing and Production in the U.S.

AUSTIN, TX (September 9, 2008) – Whole Foods Market, the world’s leading natural and organic foods supermarket and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), the Florida-based farm worker organization spearheading the growing Campaign for Fair Food, announced today that the two will work in partnership to help improve wages and working conditions for Florida tomato pickers.

According to an agreement signed this week, Whole Foods Market will support the CIW’s penny-per-pound approach for tomatoes purchased from Florida, with the goal of passing these additional funds on to the harvesters.

With this agreement, the Campaign for Fair Food has again broken new ground, said Gerardo Reyes of the CIW. This is not only our first agreement in the supermarket industry but, in working with Whole Foods Market, we have the opportunity to really raise the bar to establish and ensure modern day labor standards and conditions in Florida.

We commend the CIW for their advocacy on behalf of these workers, said Karen Christensen, Global Produce Coordinator for Whole Foods Market. After carefully evaluating the situation in Florida, we felt that an agreement of this nature was in line with our core values and was in the best interest of the workers.

Additionally, Whole Foods Market is exploring the creation of a domestic purchasing program to help guarantee transparent, ethical and responsible sourcing and production, using the company’s existing Whole Trade Guarantee program as a model. Whole Trade Guarantee, a third-party verified program, ensures that producers and laborers in developing countries get an equitable price for their goods in a safe and healthy working environment. The goal is to purchase Florida tomatoes from growers that will implement a similar program. We are especially excited about working with the CIW to develop this domestic Whole Trade-type program, said Christensen.

Coalition of Immokalee Workers Press Release (2008-09-09): Whole Foods Market Signs Agreement with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) to Support Penny-per-Pound Tomato Program in Florida

This is a big win, and it’s hardly the end. The C.I.W. is still fighting to get an agreement Chipotle; there’s a lot more yet to come.

Fellow workers, the C.I.W.’s series of inspiring 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.

¡La lucha siguevictory to the farmworkers!

See also:

¡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!

See also:

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.

See also: