Coalition of Immokalee Workers California Truth Tour aimed at getting Trader Joe’s to sign for one penny more per pound of tomatoes.
By Amelia Moore
On Thursday 14th July, Lucas Benitez from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) stopped by the Food First office to talk to the interns and staff about their campaign for better working conditions and labor rights for the tomato pickers of Immokalee, Florida. The visit formed part of the CIW’s week-long California Truth Tour that targeted Trader Joe’s with protests and community get-togethers.
Lucas told us about some of the harsh working conditions that farm laborers in Immokalee are subjected to: from restricted access to drinking water or shade to blatant sexual harassment that female pickers have to face when looking for work. The CIW has been working for eighteen years to secure more rights and improve conditions for Immokalee workers. It began with eight workers meeting in a church basement. In the last decade they have had tremendous success in getting a number of food retailers to sign an agreement to buy tomatoes from farms with fair wages and improved labor conditions. The benefit of the agreement can clearly be seen on the farms: workers now have breaks and access to drinking water when they need it; sexual harassment and cases of slavery have been investigated.
However, it’s not over yet, there are many more food retailers and supermarkets to get on board. And this time the focus is Trader Joe’s for not agreeing to the labor conditions demands of the CIW.
On Sunday, July 17 a few Food First interns joined CIW and their partner, the Student Farmworker Alliance in a protest at Trader Joe’s in San Francisco’s Mission District. We met at the Center for Political Education to hear Raj Patel, a fellow at UC Berkeley and Food First. An excellent speaker, Raj emphasized the importance of the Truth Tour campaign by highlighting some of the key food justice issues surrounding corporate retailers—from the power they hold over consumer choices to their power over the laborers in the fields.
We then marched to Trader Joe’s, letting everyone on the way know: “What do we want? – Justice! When do we want it? Now!” We were led by Lucas and other members of CIW to the entrance of the store and proceeded to march in circles, making sure we could be heard inside by staff and management. Many people entering and leaving the store were interested in why we were there, which gave the CIW a chance to briefly explain to consumers who buy tomatoes what it’s like for the tomato pickers. I hope people went home with changed views that day, prepared to ‘think before you eat’, as my placard suggested.
Liz Fitzgerald from the Student Farmworker Alliance led the protest group in an amazing rendition of Lady Gaga’s ‘Alejandro’ which included a chorus of:
“We want fair food; we want it now, Trader Joe’s!
‘Cos slavery is not OK. Trader Joe’s!
Sustainable don’t come from chains, it comes from a living wage!
We want fair food, we want it now. Trader Joe’s!”
The acoustics of Trader Joe’s entrance was perfect so everyone could hear us and the management was certainly aware. They may have found the protest an inconvenience, but it could not be greater than the inconvenience of the harsh conditions the workers of Immokalee face every day. After no more than 30 minutes, the Police came and we were told it had to end.
It was a great protest, demonstrating the support the CIW has in the Bay area and I think we made a positive impact on the shoppers at Trader Joe’s. I hope the week long Truth Tour has not only put pressure on the executives of Trader Joe’s to reconsider its position on labor conditions, but that it also opens the eyes of many other Californians to the realities that farmworkers face in putting food in supermarkets and fast food restaurants.
For more on the Trader’s Joe’s Truth Tour which is continuing go to http://ciw-online.org/