Source: Coalition of Immokalee Workers

As communities across the country come together to recognize the struggles faced by the workers who harvest this country's fruits and vegetables, the Coalition of Immokalee Worker's (CIW) Campaign for Fair Food adds another powerful supporter to the call for a more modern and humane agricultural industry with a letter of support from Florida Governor Charlie Crist.

In his letter to CIW representatives following a meeting with the CIW on March 25, the governor says, "I support the Coalition's Campaign for Fair Food, whereby corporate purchasers of tomatoes have agreed to contribute monies for the benefit of the tomato field workers. I commend these purchasers for their participation, and I encourage the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange and its members to participate in the campaign so that these monies can reach and provide assistance to the workers."

Lucas Benitez of the CIW reacted to the Governor's letter, "Today, with the addition of a single voice, the chorus of support for the Campaign for Fair Food grew immeasurably stronger.

"We are tremendously pleased to see that Governor Charlie Crist has chosen to lend his support to our campaign. There can be no doubt that this marks a significant step forward toward our vision of an agricultural industry founded on the respect of human rights, not the exploitation of human beings. We, too, look eagerly forward to working with Governor Crist to make this vision a reality."

Gerardo Reyes-Chavez, also of the CIW, said, "There is much to be done. And the first order of business is for the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange (FTGE) to end its senseless resistance to our agreements with food industry leaders, so that farmworkers may receive the increased wages promised in those agreements. While the leadership of the FTGE may not yet realize it, the market around them is changing, and a more modern, more humane agricultural industry is undoubtedly in the interest of all the growers it represents. As John Chidsey, the CEO of Burger King, said in the announcement of our agreement last year, 'If the Florida tomato industry is to be sustainable long-term, it must become more socially responsible.'

"Today's announcement by Governor Crist also sends a strong message to the rest of the restaurant and supermarket industry: Now is the time to join Yum Brands, McDonalds, and Burger King, Subway and Whole Foods in righting the wrongs that have been allowed to linger in Florida's fields for far too long."

Other supporters of the Campaign for Fair Food include U.S. Senators Dick Durbin and Bernie Sanders, Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), the Presbyterian Church (USA), Amnesty International USA and the AFL-CIO.

Farmworkers who pick tomatoes for the corporate food industry are among the country's worst paid, least protected workers. They earn about 45 cents for every 32-lb. bucket of tomatoes they pick - a rate that has not changed significantly in 30 years - working from dusk to dawn without the right to overtime pay. They receive no benefits and are excluded from the right to organize. In the most extreme cases, workers are held against their will by their employers through threats or violence - including beatings, shootings, and pistol-whippings. There have been seven federal prosecutions by the Department of Justice for forced labor in the Florida agricultural industry in the past ten years, involving well over one thousand farmworkers.

The Campaign for Fair Food seeks to change these conditions by calling on corporate buyers of tomatoes from Florida to pay a one cent per pound premium for tomatoes to be passed on to tomato workers' wages and to help improve working conditions through the implementation of an enforceable code of conduct for their suppliers including a zero-tolerance policy for forced labor.

To view the letter to the CIW from Governor, click here.