“A WATERSHED MOMENT…”

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From left to right, Julia Perkins and Lucas Benitez of the CIW, Reggie Brown of the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange, and Gerardo Reyes of the CIW share a laugh during the press conference announcing the CIW/FTGE agreement to implement the principles of Fair Food on nearly 90% of Florida’s tomato fields. Photo by David Albers, Naples Daily News. See the rest of his great gallery from the press conference here.

NEW!… Read statements of support for the CIW/FTGE agreement from Senator Dick Durbin, Senator Bernie Sanders, and the Presbyterian Church U.S.A.!

Media round-up on yesterday’s big news!…

Yesterday, at a press conference in Immokalee, the CIW and the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange signed an agreement to extend the CIW’s Fair Food principles – including a strict code of conduct, a cooperative complaint resolution system, a participatory health and safety program, and a worker-to-worker education process – to over 90% of the Florida tomato industry. You can see the press release from yesterday’s event here.

Today, the media has weighed in on the news, and here is a quick round up:

Associated Press, via ABC News: “Florida tomato growers, farmworkers in landmark deal”

“IMMOKALEE, Fla. — Growers of the bulk of all U.S. winter tomatoes struck a major deal Tuesday with a Florida farmworkers’ group to boost their wages and working conditions, clearing the way for food giants such as McDonald’s, Burger King and upscale grocer Whole Foods to pass along more money to poor field pickers for their harvests.

The landmark deal caps more than a decade of attempts by struggling field workers and their advocacy group, the Coalition of Immokalee (ihm-MAH’koh-lee) Workers, to reach a deal with the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange, a lobby for an industry that oversees 90 percent of the domestic winter tomato supply…

… Reggie Brown, executive vice president of the exchange, said the decision to come to the table was based in part on growers’ desire to protect the welfare of workers and in part on survival. He hopes a growing American appetite for locally grown produce – picked by workers earning fair wages – will give Florida tomatoes the edge in a highly competitive global market.

‘We are in tight competition with Mexican growers,’ Brown explained. ‘We provide the majority of the domestically grown fresh tomatoes for about seven months of the year. And if this is not a sustainable industry, then the U.S. will not produce tomatoes … then there’s no wages for anybody.'” read more

The AP story ran in papers across the country. Locally, the coverage was also strong, and strongly positive. The announcement was the top story in today’s Ft. Myers News-Press:

Ft. Myers News-Press: “Tomato struggle over after Immokalee coalition signs historic deal”

“After years of bitterness and a public struggle, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange have forged an unprecedented pact to change the nature of the state’s $619 million tomato industry — an industry dogged for decades by low wages and labor abuses, including high-profile slavery cases…

… Calling it a watershed moment in Florida agriculture, the CIW’s Lucas Benitez said, ‘Today is not about looking back at the problems of the past. … We are coming together as an industry in which it is finally possible to say that real, verifiable change is not only possible, but underway.’

Benitez and Brown stressed that this is a beginning of a process.

‘This is a work in progress, and this partnership will get stronger over time,’ Brown said. ‘It will not be completed overnight.’

Brown is sure labor complaints will continue to surface; the difference will be how they’re handled.

‘As time goes by, we are confident that we will be able to weed out the bad actors and, working together, build a stronger, more sustainable industry,’ he said.” read more 

and in this morning’s Naples Daily News:

Naples Daily News: “Tasty deal: Farmworkers get raise, agreement with tomato growers”

“COLLIER COUNTY — Florida farmworkers will get a long-awaited raise.

On Tuesday, the leaders of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange shook hands and signed an agreement they described as nothing short of historic. Thirteen growers – representing about 90 percent of Florida’s tomato industry – are participating in the agreement. They will pass along an extra penny-per-pound paid by participating restaurants and retailers to farmworkers to boost their wages.

As part of the agreement, the coalition will work with the growers to improve working conditions for farmworkers and end such abuses as sexual harassment, child labor and slavery in the fields…

… ‘The timing of today’s announcement couldn’t be more appropriate,” (Benitez) said. “Not only is Thanksgiving, our annual celebration of the harvest, just around the corner, but so is the 50th anniversary of the ‘Harvest of Shame,’ the landmark expose of 20th century poverty and degradation in Florida’s fields. Today, 50 years later, hope, not shame, is on the horizon.’” read more

And the blogosphere has already started to react, as well. You can find some good reading and analysis of the news herehere, and here.

But when coverage of a story spreads as far and as wide as the coverage of this story has, you sometimes find the very best nuggets of reaction tucked away in least likely places. At the very end of a story in the Bradenton (FL) Herald, entitled “Tomato deal comes to fruition,” the program director for the Healthy Start Coalition of Manatee County shared her perspective, as a health professional who works with migrant farmworkers in her county in a very distinct capacity, on the landmark agreement. We’ll close the media round-up with her quotes:

“His thought was echoed by Luz Corcuera, program director for the Healthy Start Coalition of Manatee County, an agency that provides services to pregnant women, infants and families, whose work frequently takes her to migrant camps where farmworkers live.

‘First of all, I am so excited to see this agreement finally come to fruition,’ she said. She noted that the group at Immokalee had not only won pay increases, but also won commitments for improved living conditions.

She called it a long overdue ‘victory for the farmworkers.’

‘It will help them feel they’ve been heard and, second, that they are human beings, and we value their hard work under very difficult conditions, Corcuera said.

‘There are thousands of them that have felt they have no rights, and this agreement will not only increase their wages, but give them a sense that people care about them. It is thanks to their hard work we are able to have food at our table.’” read more

Check back again soon for more on this breaking story. There’s a lot more to come — statements from key Campaign for Fair Food allies who helped make it all happen, including Senator Durbin, Senator Sanders, and the Presbyterian Church U.S.A., video and radio stories, a photo report, and more!