Late last week, Chipotle Mexican Grill agreed to pay Florida tomato pickers an extra penny per pound harvested by purchasing its tomatoes directly from a private Florida grower. One penny might sound inconsequential, but for these workers it translates into a 64% wage increase.
The battle between tomato pickers and companies that supply them to restaurants has been a long one, and advocacy groups like the Coalition of Immokalee Workers have been fighting for the penny-per-pound increase for years. Other fast food restaurants—McDonald's, Taco Bell, and Burger King—had already agreed to pay workers the increased rate. But the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange, a cooperative of Florida tomato growers, has cited legal issues and prevented its members from taking part, leaving the money tied up in escrow. On its Web site, the Growers Exchange explains its reasons for not cooperating with the CIW:
"The Florida Tomato Growers Exchange does not object to fast-food restaurant companies paying extra wages to the workers who pick the tomatoes they buy. Our members simply do not want to be part of that arrangement by functioning as the conduit through which the extra penny would be paid.
We believe that under the cover of being a social organization hoping to better the life of farmworkers, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers is in fact a labor organization as defined under Florida statutes and that certain employees of the CIW are "business agents" as defined under Florida statutes."
But it seems that the CIW is getting the attention of the right people. East Coast Growers and Packers—one of the state's four largest tomato growers—has dropped out of the Growers Exchange in favor of working with the CIW and implementing its Fair Food agreements, explaining that it would rather do the right thing than be popular with the competition.
The East Coast Growers' dedication to workers' rights that is allowing Chipotle to take part in the CIW's penny-per-pound initiative, knowing that the money will actually make its way to workers' pockets. "In looking at all of the ingredients we use to make our food, we're constantly looking for ways to make them better, to get ingredients that are raised in ways that demonstrate respect for the land, the animals, and the workers," Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold told NPR.