As part of Food Week of Action, today we are celebrating with farmworkers in vermont and as we recognise the huge milestone that was reached in the food and farming world earlier this month.
On Tuesday October 3, farmworker leaders from Migrant Justice and the CEO of Ben & Jerry’s jointly signed the Milk with Dignity agreement. The legally-binding contract establishes Ben & Jerry’s as the first company in the dairy industry to implement the worker-driven human rights program. This momentous occasion marks the beginning of a new day for dairy, one that provides economic relief and support to struggling farm owners, in the form of a premium paid by Ben & Jerry’s, while ensuring dignity and respect for farmworkers.
Migrant Justice spokesperson Enrique “Kike” Balcazar spoke to those assembled before he signed the agreement himself to mark the historic moment:
“This is an historic moment for dairy workers. We have worked tirelessly to get here, and now we move forward towards a new day for the industry. We appreciate Ben & Jerry’s leadership role and look forward to working together to implement a program that ensures dignified housing and fair working conditions on dairy farms across the region. And though this is the first, it won’t be the last agreement of its kind.”
As part of today’s Food Week action, support farmworkers by delivering a manager’s letter to a Wendy’s near you.
Dear Wendy’s Manager,
As a Wendy’s consumer and supporter of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ (CIW) groundbreaking Fair Food Program, I urge Wendy’s to join with the CIW and the Florida tomato industry as they work to eliminate the forced labor, poverty wages and other human rights abuses historically faced by Florida farmworkers who harvest your tomatoes.
For decades, Florida’s farmworkers endured poverty wages and daily violations of their basic rights in order to harvest the food on our plates:
• Stagnant, sub-poverty wages: Florida tomato harvesters are still paid by the piece. The prevailing piece rate today is 50 cents for every 32-lbs of tomatoes a worker picks, a rate that has remained virtually unchanged since 1980. As a result of that stagnation, a worker today must pick nearly 2.5 tons of tomatoes to earn minimum wage in a typical 10-hour workday. Most farmworkers today earn less than $12,000 a year.
• Absence of fundamental labor rights: Florida farmworkers have no right to overtime pay, no benefits and no right to organize in order to improve these conditions.
• Modern-day slavery: In the most extreme cases, workers have been forced to labor against their will through the use or threat of physical violence.
The good news is that a new day has dawned in the fields. The Fair Food Program, an historic partnership among farmworkers, tomato growers, and eleven leading food corporations is building a new tomato industry that advances the human rights and dignity of farmworkers while strengthening the sustainability of the entire industry. By joining the Fair Food Program, corporations require more humane working conditions from their Florida tomato suppliers, pay a small premium to help support those improved conditions, and commit to purchase exclusively from growers who meet the Program’s higher standards. These commitments are monitored and audited by the Fair Food Standards Council, a nonprofit third party organization, to ensure accountability and transparency.
Of the five largest fast food corporations in the country — McDonald’s, Subway, Burger King, Taco Bell (Yum! Brands), and Wendy’s — Wendy’s is the only one not participating in the Fair Food Program. Sustainable restaurant leader Chipotle Mexican Grill also participates.
Wendy’s has responded to consumers’ calls to join the Fair Food Program by saying “[W]e pay a premium to our tomato suppliers in Florida, and expect them to take care of their employees. All of our Florida tomato suppliers participate in the Fair Food Program.”
The truth is, whatever premium Wendy’s may be paying is not the Fair Food Premium, it is not being monitored by the Fair Foods Standards Council, and it is not going to address farmworkers’ grinding poverty. Wendy’s statement that its suppliers belong to the Fair Food Program is both unverifiable and meaningless because Wendy’s, unlike its competitors in the Fair Food Program, does not have to, and does not, tell anyone who its tomato suppliers are. Nor does Wendy’s have to suspend its purchases from any participating grower found out of compliance with the Fair Food Code of Conduct. These are the dual linchpins that give the Program its teeth, and Wendy’s simply is not doing its part.
The Fair Food Program is a proven model, recognized by both the White House and the United Nations, that offers Wendy’s a tremendous opportunity to become, without incurring any competitive disadvantage, part of the human rights advances in Florida’s fields.
As a Wendy’s consumer, I look forward to your company working with the CIW and with Florida’s tomato growers through the Fair Food Program to ensure human rights for Florida farmworkers who harvest the tomatoes used in your restaurants.
For more information, please contact the CIW at 239-657-8311 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can download, a copy of this letter to print and mail HERE.
President Donald Trump has today endorsed legislation proposed by two republican senators (David Perdue of Georgia and Tom Cotton of Arkansas), which would introduce new limits on legal immigration. The new system would be based on merit over any other criteria, which means that highly skilled workers will receive priority over lower skilled workers or potential immigrants who have family members already residing within the United States. If passed, it would also reduce the number of refugees accepted by half, at a time when the world is facing the worst refugee crisis since WWII due to a complex combination of factors which include climate change and conflict.
According to a recent article in the LA Times, wages are up for farm workers in California and some farms are even offering perks (think 401(k), health care, vacation days, and profit-sharing bonuses) that were often unheard of in the world of agriculture. So why, then, are farmers struggling with what sounds like a crippling labor shortage? Paired with an increasingly restrictive immigration policy, the article suggests that it’s because native-born Americans simply don’t want to work in the fields:
But the raises and new perks have not tempted native-born Americans to leave their day jobs for the fields. Nine in 10 agriculture workers in California are still foreign born, and more than half are undocumented, according to a federal survey.
What do you think? Although the article has its holes and shortcomings, it’s a great start to a debate that must be had in California and throughout the country. Give the entire piece a read by clicking HERE.
Though those who live farther away from the muddy melting snow of Southern New England, may not have caught wind of the migrant rights struggle that has been playing out between farms and courthouses around the region, it’s worth everyone’s attention.
Since the ICE arrest and detention of farmworkers and Migrant Justice leaders Jose Enrique “Kike” Balcazar Sanchez and Zully Palacios Rodriguez on March 16, hundreds of people have gathered aroundVermont and in Boston to demand the young activists release. Migrant Justice is a Vermont-based organization that organizes three regional migrant worker communities to advocate for human rights and economic justice. Especially considering some of the anecdotes in this excellent piece by LatinoUSA.org on their case, it is hard to imagine a scenario in which immigration officials are not intentionally targeting human rights leaders for deportation.
Both are in their early twenties, neither with any prior arrests, and they were on their way home from the Migrant Justice center when they were stopped. Balcazar, as LatinoUSA reports, “is an active community organizer in Vermont, and served on Vermont attorney general T.J. Donovan’s Immigrant Task Force, which was created in January as a response to President Trump’s immigration executive orders.”
Fair Food: Field To Table is a video project of the California Institute for Rural Studies, a nonprofit research organization whose mission is to “increase social justice in rural California for all residents, building sustainable communities based on a healthy agriculture.” Their research takes a keen look at the often-obscured lives of California farm workers in the form of research reports, videos, and action plans. They form strong relationships with grassroots organizations and farm worker communities in order to “turn research into action.”
Needless to say how important and progressive this work is.
We don’t often see mainstream media outlets report on the often invisible farm workers that hold up so much of American agriculture– let alone do in depth and humanizing interviews with them. So, in case you missed it, we wanted to bring your attention to a series created by Dan Charles for NPR’s The Salt in which Charles interviews the largely-Hispanic migrant immigrant workers on sweet potato, apple, orange, strawberry, and blueberry farms. Even for those of us who have worked on smaller-scale farms, a look into the lives of workers on these gigantic combines is both fascinating and critical. We can’t recommend a listen more highly.
You can read Charles’s summary of his findings here and follow his links to listen to each piece individually.
Walking the 200 miles from Long Island to Albany, protesters stopped at City Hall in New York City last Saturday chanting si se puede. According to Democracy Now!, the protesters are walking in support of the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act (more about this from the ACLU), asking that farm workers have the right to collective bargaining, an optional day off every week, and overtime pay– rights people in virtually every other industry in the US take for granted. The walkers are led by Rural and Migrant Minstry, a NY-based nonprofit that supports rural and migrant communities in the state.
“I would like to say, each time you are eating, or each time you have something in your hands that you are going to eat, remember us, who do not have the rights that other workers have. And if you can, support us. We are going to be marching for another week and a few days. If you see us, it would be good if you support us by walking with us, maybe a couple of hours, one hour, for a day if you can. That would be very good.”