Thursday, January 20, 2011

Victory for Coalition of Immokalee Farm Workers Likely Sets Precedent for Better Pay and Workplace Protections

"After Long Fight, Farmworkers in Florida Win an Increase in Pay"
Published: January 18, 2011

"IMMOKALEE, Fla. — After fighting for more than a decade for better wages, a group of Florida farmworkers has hashed out the final piece of an extraordinary agreement with local tomato growers and several big-name buyers, including the fast-food giants McDonald’s and Burger King, that will pay the pickers roughly a penny more for every pound of fruit they harvest.

Farm laborers are among the lowest-paid workers in the United States, and the agreement could add thousands of dollars to their income.

Though the hamburger chains and others agreed to the increase years ago, the money they have been paying — an estimated $2 million now held in an escrow account — could not be distributed to tomato pickers until the state’s largest trade association, which acts as a middleman, agreed to lift a ban preventing their farms from passing along the extra wages.

That happened in November, when the farmworkers’ group, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, and the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange, a trade association, completed details of a code of conduct that included not only the wage improvement but also guarantees of increased workplace protections — like minimum-wage guarantees and a zero tolerance policy on forced and child labor — for the laborers.

Some labor experts said the agreement could set a precedent for improving working conditions and pay in other parts of the agriculture and food industries, nationally and worldwide."

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