Say NO to Sweatshop Tomatoes!

The Chipotle restaurant chain calls its product “Food With Integrity”. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), an organization of mostly immigrant farmworkers in Florida’s fields says, “Really? Then let’s talk about the SWEATSHOP TOMATOES IN YOUR BURRITOS!” A busload of farmworkers will be in Champaign and Urbana this Tuesday, October 17, and they are making the most of their time here. They’ll be giving classroom presentations throughout the day Tuesday, meeting with activists at lunch and in the early afternoon, and then picketing a popular Mexican food chain on campus. From there they head directly to a potluck dinner with more local activists and then back to campus for an evening presentation on conditions in the fields and their campaign to change them. They’ll crash at a supporter’s home and hit the road on Wednesday. What a life! In the fields So just how bad can tomato pickers’ wages be – in the US – in 2006? The average worker gets paid 40 cents for picking one bucketful, or 32 pounds of tomatoes. In other words, she or he has to pick two tons of tomatoes every day just to reach the federal poverty level for a family of three. No sick days. No holidays. No overtime. No allowances for bad weather, drought or low yield crops. The basic wage for most tomato pickers has not changed in decades. A recent victory in the boycott against Taco Bell, organized by CIW, resulted in the corporate giant paying one cent more per pound for its tomatoes. Organizers say that one cent is negligible from the consumer’s perspective, but multiplied over the many tons of tomatoes that farmworkers pick it is enough to significantly improve many lives. But most big buyers, and therefore most growers and most tomato pickers, are still waiting for this kind of historic raise. Taco Bell also agreed to work closely with CIW to improve conditions in the fields. How bad can conditions in the fields be? There have been six federal slavery convictions in the Florida fields since 1997. Growers have held workers in the fields at gunpoint, beat them, pistol whipped them, held them in debt slavery and locked them in squalid labor camps over night – chains across the gates, armed guards, no visitors, nobody in or out after dark. Temperatures in the fields can reach 110 degress Fahrenheit, yet there is often no water available. In fact, some workers report receiving beatings for asking for a drink. There are usually no bathroom facilities, either. Most people in the United States also do not know that farmworkers are exempt from federal protections relating to the right to form, join and participate in labor unions. Always have been. It is perfectly legal to fire a farmworker in the US today for signing a union card. The Immokalee Workers risk a lot. Local connection CIW has been to Urbana-Champaign before. Last year another group on a similar tour stopped at the IMC for an evening with local activists and showed a video on conditions in the fields and the McDonald's restaurant chain's campaign against the CIW. Before that, during the Taco Bell campaign, several local union and religious activists picketed the Taco Bell restaurant on University Avenue with a giant puppet as part of a national "puppet tour", which led to some very interesting conversations with the restaurant's workers and with police. This time the local connection is much more active. There will be several chances to lend a hand, show support and learn more. The main events for community participation on Tuesday afternoon are: Community Picket for Fair Food Oct. 17 at 5:00 PM Chipotle Restaurant Corner of Sixth and Green on campus. Potluck dinner with Immokalee Workers Oct. 17 at 6:30 PM Come meet and eat with the Immokalee workers! [Finalized location T.B.A. below] Presentation on the current campaign Oct. 17 at 8pm University YMCA Corner of Wright and Chalmers. For more info: www.ciw-online.org or call 328-3037.

While I fully support the

While I fully support the CIW, I do need to put two of your "facts" in perspective. First, the CIW is explicit in their distinction as a workers' organization, not a union. This substantially decreases the risk they expose themselves to. Second, picking two tons of tomatoes is not as much as it sounds. According to the USDA, average acreage yields are approximately 30 tons. 2 tons of tomatoes covers an area of approximately 320 square yards - equivalent to 6 yards on a football field, for the entire width of the field. I've done my fair share of field work (I work in bean fields every summer for 8-10 hours a day, 7 days a week), and this is not that difficult. These misrepresentations substantially detract from a fair evaluation of CIW's real mission - eliminating the virtual enslavement of these workers. These human rights violations are despicable, and everyone should see the need to improve their working conditions. Please don't hurt the cause by using misleading scare tactics.

Misrepresentations

Dear anonymous: I am glad that you support the CIW, and that you agree that conditions in the fields are despicable and need all of us to join in improving them. I hope to meet you at one or more of these events. And, of course, everyone has their perspective. However, I have to take issue, on CIW's behalf, with a couple of your characterizations. You allege "misrepresentations" but you don't actually challenge any of the facts in the article. First, it is not a "misleading scare tactic" to point out that farmworkers do not share the legal protections for joining a union that most other workers have, at least to some degree. In reality what this means is that any agricultural worker in the US, member of a union or any other organization, is employed "at will" under the law: that is, they can be fired legally "at any time for any reason or no reason". The only exceptions are the few prohibited discriminations of race, gender, etc., which are very hard to prove. The average worker, not having studied labor law, may not know this legal doctrine, but we all live it, and I'd bet most of us know it. So your rather idyllic claim that not declaring one's organization a union "substantially decreases the risk they expose themselves to" gives reality a pretty wide berth. Only the legal protections associated with union activity, which agricultural workers do not have in the US, can make any worker (besides those very few with specific individual contracts that say otherwise) anything but "employed at will". Second, I believe it is your "perspective" on the piece rate (if it is indeed yours) that is misleading. Your argument looks suspiciously like one being promoted at the moment by McDonald's, which did a seriously flawed study -- and which has been soundly criticized, by the way, by independent economists and labor researchers. (They found the McDonald's report "So riddled with errors both large and small that it cannot be accepted as factually accurate on virtually any measure".) At any rate, the point of explaining the piece rate and the fact that it has not changed in decades was how low the pay is. A worker would have to pick two tons of tomatoes THREE HUNDRED SIXTY FIVE DAYS A YEAR to earn $18, 250, which is about midway between the (too low) federal poverty guidelines for a family of three and for a family of four. If you really do work in the fields, you'll understand that keeping this rate for 365 days in a row is not even possible. Once again, if you are sick one day, you do not get paid. If you stay home with a sick child or because of a hurricane or for any reason at all, you do not get paid. The piece rate is not as easy as you make it sound, either. A football field is 55 yards wide. Why you specify the shorter dimension and describe the longer without attaching a figure to it I'll leave to others to speculate. Another way to understand the area we are talking about is to picture a square patch of hot, densely planted tomato rows 32 yards long by 10 yards wide. If you work 10 hours day, that means you'd have to pick approximately one 32-yard row every hour of every day, without taking breaks. You could do it some days, sure. But it's backbreaking work, and people are not machines. Some days you just wouldn't make it. But once again, even if you do, you still get subpoverty wages. And the conditions in the fields, which you acknowledge are "despicable", do affect a worker's rate. The temperatures (I know from personal experience working on a railroad in Mississippi) are gruelling -- and without drinking water, downright dangerous. But once again, the point is that human beings deserve better pay for this work -- as well as much better working conditions. Chipotle's claims that it monitors "conditions" all the way back up the pipeline applies only to its stated concerns for animal rights and the environment. These are laudable sentiments, but they should alos apply to human workers.

Honestly, I had no idea

Honestly, I had no idea there was a McDonald's "study" regarding this. My piece-rate analysis was based off of USDA data and a calculator. Here, I'll show you the steps. All information regarding tomatoes comes from that site, and all other items are readily verifiable facts. 1) There are two kinds of tomato acreage in the US, as listed in the USDA - fresh and processing. Fresh tomatoes yield over 15 tons/acre, while processing tomatoes yield over 37 tons/acre. Using the rough proportions of consumption given in the USDA page (3/4 of tomatoes are of the processing type), we develop a weighted average yield of 31.5 tons/acre. (0.75*37 + 0.25*15) 2) To pick 2 tons of tomatoes, at the average yield, a worker would have to pick 4/63 of an acre. (2 tons / 31.5 tons) 3) Fact: An acre consists of 4840 square yards. 4) Unit conversion: 4/63 acre * 4840 square yards/acre = 307.3 square yards. 5) Fact: A football field is 160 feet wide, or 53 1/3 yards. Not 55. 6) 307.3 square yards / 53 1/3 yards (width)= 5.76 yards (length) So, you're right, it's not six yards on a football field - it's less. Now, the 365 days thing. I'll change my numbers to fit a standard American schedule: 250 days a year. 1) (365 days / 250 days) * 5.76 yards = 8.41 yards So, to work a standard 250-day year and reach the poverty level, a worker has to pick an area the equivalent of 8.4 yards of a football field. I truly support the CIW's cause - I just want to see the emphasis placed on changing the working conditions first. Initially focusing on changing the pay rates will not improve workers' conditions - if anything, it will worsen them (out of "cost-cutting" or resentment by land owners). I think this also allows Joe Sixpack to readily support the cause - improving workers' conditions won't affect the tomatoes on his taco. He'll still pay the same price for the same amount/quality of tomatoes. And who in their right mind can argue against improving the workers' conditions? However, when we start focusing on the pay of workers, people can easily brush off the cause. Joe Sixpack now thinks things like, "I want more pay, where's my coalition? They picked that job, they can leave it if they don't like it." Despite showing a sub-par understanding of market economics (e.g. the worker, in fact, cannot just leave the job), Bob Sixpack listens to Joe Sixpack's argument and also plays the cause off as "just another bunch of wackos."

On the Subject of Vague Disses

Ricky, It sounds very much like one of our local trolls. It's the old, "say I'm on your side, while introducing red herrings" scam. Plus, it's his habit to attack anything you post, all the more so if it's a Feature. That's a pattern that has happened over and over again, going all the way back to when he was alloed to call himself JR. For instance, can ANYONE explain just WTF anonymous means by this: "First, the CIW is explicit in their distinction as a workers' organization, not a union. This substantially decreases the risk they expose themselves to." Unions have very little protection in this country and farm workers have even fewer, a legacy of racism originally meant to exclude largely black and brown farmworkers when America's weak labor laws were implememnted in the 1930s. The labor laws that do exist usually go unenforced and the Bushies are trying to gut what's left. If you're a workers' organization, you have even less than the minimal protection extended to unions. Whoever anonymous is, they know NOTHING about the reality of labor rights in this country. Or they are purposely trying to spread BS. Sorry, that kind of fertilizer won't grow any tomatioes, just little fat Rush Limbaughs. What is more, anonymous doesn't sound like he ever picked up a hoe himself. I worked walking beans myself many long days in summers past. Although it was a family operation, I can tell you there are _no_ 8-hour days on the farm and very, very few 10-hour days. And this is for a family operation. Thus, I doubt that anonymous has done anything on the farm, other than drive past a bean field. If you're just a hired farmworker, things will only be worse, as you'll be in the field at dawn, instead of an hour afterwards, and you'll work until dusk. Hoeing beans is nothing like picking tomatoes, to boot. It's all stoop and then lug increasingly heavy containers. No one needs the kind of back-handed "support" that anonymous offers, except him, as cover for his trolling.

You're Right, You Have No Idea

Do you actually think that working conditions are UNRELATED to pay? If you're not an ignorant fool to say something like that, then you're a scoundrel. Do you actually know that people are scammed by piecework in almost every case? Do you really think that somehow every calculation a grower makes is not based on money? That workers should just suck it up and accept poverty level wages? Do you really think making sure workers are paid a fair wage would really make a big difference in the price of a burrito? That somehow consumers shouldn't consider whether the worker who produced what they consume received a fair wage, good working conditions, etc.? BTW, farmworkers would like to have a 250-day year like some American workers do. But they're too poor not to work 7 days a week when they have work available. There are NO paid days off. And where in the US can a farmworker get 365 days of work? Remember, we have growing seasons and climates that differ greatly across this country. These workers have to travel, chasing the crops. They sure aren't being paid for that time or mileage to get to the next job. And sometimes there just isn't work, but it is usually spent looking for the next job or scrounging the necessities of life since they can't afford to shop for them. It's also now very obvious that you never set foot on a farm, unlike your claim in the original comment.

Tomato Picking - The Gory Details

Anonymous, what do you actually do for 8-10 hours a day in bean fields? I'm not going to diss working in bean fields as opposed to picking tomatoes, because both are hard work. They're very different types of hard work, though, and they really aren't comparable. I used to work on a local vegetable farm, so I've picked a lot of fresh market tomatoes. Frankly, I'd rather pick the fresh ones; they're easier. They're usually staked.* Processing tomatoes are not, so the person picking them has to crouch and pick through folliage on the ground to find tomatoes, and do it fast, all day long. While they don't have to be as picky as they would for the fresh market, I'm sure they do have to excercise some judgement about what to take and what to leave. And as a bonus, the longer you pick out of a field, the more tomatoes start to rot. The stench of tons of rotting tomatoes on a hot, stagnant day is not something you want to smell. Your calculations don't factor in that not everything is picked; a lot is left behind. And tomatoes on the ground are not nice and upright like beans; they sprawl, even determinate varieties. So the actual acreage that a picker has to cover is going to be greater than what you've calculated, although how much is going to vary depending on the crop conditions. It can vary greatly from week to week, assuming that each field is picked more than once. So yes, crouching and hauling a a 32-bucket of tomatoes all day, every day, with no breaks, is much harder than you're making it out to be. FWIW, the most tomatoes that I know I picked in one day was 340lbs of heirlooms off out of a 60-foot, 6-row greenhouse. *At least, on small farms where quality matters, they're likely to be staked. Most big farmers are going to have little financial incentive to stake large fields of tomatoes.

Come to a potluck with immigrant farmworkers

Details now confirmed. 6:30pm in the IMC basement, Broadway and Elm. Come and bring a dish to share - and af riend with a dish :-) We'll talk a bit more intimately about the CIW Fair Food Campaign. Local activists who want to eat lunch with the farmworkers, too, call me: 328-3037. And thanks, Babs, for the reality check!

chipotles is mcdonalds

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