Major Agreement Signed With Tomato Pickers!

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Just four days ahead of a
formal nationwide boycott
by tomato pickers
and their allies, on April
9, 2007, fastfood giant
McDonald’s Corporation
signed a historic agreement
with the Coalition of Immokalee
Workers, the grassroots labor association of
mostly immigrant farm workers in Florida,
accepting CIW demands that exceed concessions
made by Taco Bell in March 2005.
After a spirited four-year boycott, Taco
Bell agreed to pay a penny a pound more
for tomatoes (with the proviso that the
extra cent is passed on through growers to
farm workers) and to work with the CIW to
improve conditions in the fields.
Now, on the first day of the CIW’s crosscountry
“McDonald’s Truth Tour”—
dubbed “Behind the Golden Arches”—
McDonald’s has agreed to all that Taco Bell
gave up, plus a “workers rights consortium.”
The consortium is reportedly similar
to the one that US Students Against
Sweatshops established in 2001 to monitor
conditions along the supply chain for
school-sponsored apparel, only this one
will keep an eye on the fields.
Events in Chicago planned for April
13–14, however, are still on, but the focus
has changed. Friday’s planned protest at
McDonald’s headquarters in Oak Brook
will be a conference of the groups involved
in the campaign. Saturday’s planned “carnaval”
and march in downtown Chicago
will be a victory celebration—and promises
to be an exuberant one.
As previously reported in the Public i, the
average worker earns 40–45 cents for picking
one bucketful of tomatoes, weighing 32
pounds. That’s over two tons of tomatoes
every day just to reach the federal poverty
level—even if you could pick that every day,
which you can’t. On average a tomato picker
can expect to earn about $10,000 a year.
The cost of living in Immokalee is $18,000
for a single person.
Also, agricultural laborers do not have
even the minimal protections of US labor
laws covering most American employees.
Conditions in the fields approach those in
the global south.
At one extreme there have been six federal
slavery convictions in the Florida fields
since 1997. Sometimes this is so-called ‘debt
slavery’, where growers promise good jobs,
then add on charges at a ‘company store’ or
for transportation to the fields. In one case a
grower recruited mostly African American
men from a local homeless shelter, then paid
them at the end of the week in alcohol, cigarettes
and cocaine.
Growers have also held workers in the
fields at gunpoint, beat them, pistol
whipped them, run over them in trucks,
and locked them in squalid labor camps
over night—chains across the gates, armed
guards, no visitors, nobody in or out after
Organizing in the fields around
Immokalee since the mid-nineties, the
Coalition of Immokalee Workers has been
able to eliminate most of the worst conditions
in their area. Workers in Immokalee
say the beatings, the gun play, all have
stopped. Outside Immokalee, however,
many are still working without a net.
The Taco Bell victory, and now the victory at
McDonald’s, are important for two reasons
(besides the obvious historical moment of
winning a David-and-Goliath campaign
against fast food giants like these). The most
obvious is that tomato pickers in the Taco
Bell supply chain saw a sudden, unprecedented
leap in wages. After almost thirty
years without a raise, wages practically doubled
over night. Presumably that will happen
now with McDonald’s suppliers.
In addition, these wage increases—as
well as the improvements in working conditions
expected from these two pacts—
affect many workers outside the Coalition’s
direct organizing orbit. Every worker who
picks tomatoes for Taco Bell or McDonald’s
should see these improvements, even if
they have never heard of CIW. And the
more big bites the workers can take out of
the market, the easier it gets to expand the
victory to other fields, other growers.
Not only this, but every victory makes
the pattern stronger. The Taco Bell boycott
campaign also laid the groundwork for the
McDonald’s Truth Tour, which began last
year. The formal boycott of Taco Bell lasted
four years. McDonald’s gave in before the
boycott announcement. After this, how
long can Burger King hope to hold out?
Form ore info on CIW and their

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