In 2008, Whole Foods and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) reached an agreement to increase the piecemeal wages of tomato pickers. However, with sustained grower co-op pressure in opposition, the agreement only recently came to fruition when two farms agreed to participate in the "penny-per-pound" program. Whole Foods announced June 4, 2009, that Lady Moon Farms and Alderman Farms have signed on to the agreement, which will be funded by the retailer.
The arrangement offers workers one penny more per pound of tomatoes picked, which may not sound like much, unless you consider the volume picked. CIW puts it like this, "We'd like you to consider that farmworkers have to pick two tons of tomatoes to make $50 a day."
According to an AP story, "Florida workers earn about 47 cents per 32-pound bucket. That can mean an average of about $12 an hour during the picking season for the hardest workers..."
Woah, anyone else find these numbers staggering? Let's do the math. To make an average of $12 per hour, a worker would need to pick about 25.5 buckets per hour ($12/$.47). That would be 817 pounds of tomatoes per hour (25.5 x 32). So, a penny-per-pound increase at 817 pounds per hour translates into an hourly raise of $8.17 or a 68% pay hike, based on $12 per hour. I took the hourly poundage of 817 one step further; in an eight-hour workday, a worker would pick a total of 6,536 pounds or 3.27 tons. Regardless of the wage improvement, how long can field workers sustain that level of strenuous manual labor?
In March 2009, Gourmet magazine reported on hardships of tomato field workers Immokalee, Florida, described as "the tomato capital of the United States" where about 40 percent of Florida tomatoes are grown, according to the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange. Keep in mind, U.S. tomatoes sold during winter months usually come from Florida, so even if you live in another state, you may be at the consumption end of this chain if you buy fresh tomatoes November-February.
Self-described as a "community-based organization of mainly Latino, Mayan Indian and Haitian immigrants working in low-wage jobs throughout the state of Florida," CIW has played a crucial role in improving workers rights and the erradication of human trafficking, since its inception in 1993. CIW posted these December 2007 photos capturing the work and life of tomato pickers in Immokalee.