CIW, Compass Group, East Coast Growers, and Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis gather in Washington, DC for announcement of groundbreaking accord

As participants in the day’s events gathered at the Newseum (on the 8th floor of the recently completed “museum of news,” to be exact, with an awe-inspiring view of the Capitol building), Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis took some time to catch up with Lucas Benitez of the CIW…

… and to meet several other CIW members who made the 18-hour trip from Florida to DC by van. As she noted in her speech later that morning, Secretary Solis is an old friend of the CIW and the Campaign for Fair Food since her time as a member of the House of Representatives from California.

… and to meet several other CIW members who made the 18-hour trip from Florida to DC by van. As she noted in her speech later that morning, Secretary Solis is an old friend of the CIW and the Campaign for Fair Food since her time as a member of the House of Representatives from California.

The announcement ceremony was emceed by Cheryl Queen, Vice President of Corporate Communications, Compass Group North America. A gracious host, Cheryl reminded those present of the many behind-the-scenes contributions of people who made the CIW/Compass Group agreement possible. She thanked the gathered parties — farmworkers, growers and consumers — and then passed the mic to Lucas Benitez of the CIW.

Lucas challenged other food industry leaders — naming in particular Sodexo, Aramark, Publix and WalMart — to get behind the movement for Fair Food:

“To other food industry leaders who are still watching from outside, I want to tell you today that it is time to support East Coast and this model for social responsibility. No longer can it be said that the change we are seeking is impossible. Instead, today we are building a future that will guarantee that both growers and workers receive the benefits of a fairer agricultural industry that can withstand the challenges of the marketplace.”

Chris Ashcroft, Executive Vice President for Human Resources for Compass Group, spoke on behalf of the company and its Board of Directors:

“Every day, Compass Group sells over 6 million healthy meals in over 10,000 locations, but we can only do this successfully with the goodwill and commitment of our employees. Our business depends on our people and our core values are devoted to providing our employees with a safe place to work, good wages and benefits, and the opportunity to grow as our company grows.

So it is natural, therefore, that we would expect to hold our suppliers to those same ethical standards. We expect the companies that help us serve those 6 milllion meals a day to treat their employees with dignity and respect, pay fair wages, and provide training opportunities. This new Code of Conduct, which we developed in partnership with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers is aimed to do just that for our tomato suppliers.”

Batista Madonia, Jr., head of sales for East Coast Growers and Packers, explained the rationale behind his company’s decision to implement the CIW’s Fair Food agreements:

“I wanted to be here with all of you today to discuss a very important decision we have made at East Coast: to help the people who work tirelessly to feed our great country every day.

Fifty three years ago, my parents founded East Coast Growers and Packers, and as a family owned and operated business, they’ve always seen our employees as members of our family. Our recent decision to incorporate the extra penny per pound is based in large part on our desire to provide the best possible quality of life for our employees. We are a leader in this industry because of the people who go out each day to bring the best produce to diners and restaurants nationwide.”

Reverend Noelle Damico of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) reminded the crowd of the fundamental relationship of mutual respect at the heart of the new accord:

“The mutual respect that is demonstrated in this agreement and at this signing is the fuel that will propel the promise of this agreement into its reality… This agreement is significant because it reminds our society of the fundamental dignity and equality we share as human beings. This is not an agreement in which farmworkers are “done unto.” Farmworkers have been full partners in the creation of this agreement and will be full partners in its implementation, because the agreement and its partners recognize each other as human beings who are entitled to respect, voice, and participation.”

Finally, Secretary Solis took the podium. She began by reading Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack’s statement, which you can find here. She then continued:

“I would like to congratulate the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. For the first time, a major Florida producer, East Coast Growers and Packers, represented here, have implemented the CIW’s Fair Food program. This is a huge victory…

This partnership is good for workers and it’s good for business…

When my father came to this country as an immigrant, he also came as a farmworker… And my mother toiled on an assembly line for twenty years. They were both members of unions, but what I remember most importantly about what they instilled in the family is to respect work, to honor your workers, and to know that, wherever you work, there should always be dignity and respect.”

Before wrapping up, Secretary Solis awarded mementos of the Department of Labor’s appreciation to the three principal architects of the historic accord, from left to right, the CIW, Compass, and East Coast.

A lot of work went into making the moving events of the morning possible, not the least of which was riding herd on an unruly bunch of toddlers who threatened to take over the agenda at any moment. But through the valiant efforts of a rotation of volunteers, the kids were kept in line (for the most part) and the event was a huge success for all who came.

Check back soon as the media coverage — including video — comes rolling in!