Hey, Trader Joe's Pay-Up for Your Tomatoes! : A May Day Action in Solidarity with the CIW

Hey, Trader Joe's Pay-Up for Your Tomatoes! : A May Day Action in Solidarity with the CIW

Last week, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), a farmworker-led human rights organization, organized a national day of action on May Day, to highlight Trader Joe’s ongoing support of human rights abuses in Florida’s tomato farms.  Baltimore citizens joined in solidarity at the Towson Trader Joe’s, on Joppa Rd. Similar actions took place in Washington D.C. and Montgomery County.  All in all, twenty-three actions took place from coast-to-coast.

The CIW, an organization composed mostly of Haitian, Latino, and Mayan farmworkers from Florida, has gathered data documenting the ongoing labor malpractices affecting farmworkers, whose fruits of labor continue to make profit for Trader Joe’s.  According to the CIW, “Farmworkers picking tomatoes for Trader Joe’s chain of supermarkets earn 40-50 cents for every 32-pound bucket of tomatoes they harvest.”  In essence forcing them to lift almost 2 and ½ tons of tomatoes in 10 hours, just to make minimum wage.  Adjusting for inflation, the wage still has not increased since 1978, causing workers to live in a state of perpetual poverty and vulnerability to exploitation from employers. Exploitation which has ranged from loss of pay, to explicit cases of modern, shackled, slavery.

The CIW has been working to encourage Trader Joe’s to sign on to an enforceable agreement that will ensure it purchases its produce from fairly-produced tomato farms.  Several farms across Florida have already signed on to this, but unless Trader Joe’s agrees as well, there will be no way to hold the store accountable. There will be no way to make sure that all of its purchases come from fair suppliers.  Projected costs would amount to an additional penny per pound.

To help promote this campaign locally, a group of Baltimore residents representing individual citizens, and organizations, including Industrial Workers of the World, Civilian-Soldier Alliance, and United Workers, gathered outside the Towson Plaza Trader Joe's Sunday afternoon and began leafletting to receptive shoppers.  Participants held out a banner right next to the entrance, while handing out flyers to customers coming out and inviting shoppers to submit their signed letters to the manager after finishing their purchases.  Customers were for the most part sympathetic despite not wanting to spend too much time out in the rain.  That being said, several customers became additionally excited when they found out the action was in solidarity with the CIW and eagerly signed their names to their letters to submit to the manager after their purchases. A sure sign that the campaign has strong public support.

Organizers of the event also went inside to speak directly with the manager and let them know the purpose of the action.  The store was completely packed and everyone looked extremely busy, yet the manager they spoke with was very amicable and appreciated their efforts.  

It is worth noting that the CIW and its allies have succeeded in previous campaigns to ensure large, national chains, including: Taco Bell, Whole Foods, McDonald’s, Sodexo, Subway, and Burger King - do not support modern-day slavery.  In other words, Trader Joe’s can either look like a hypocrite and agree after a long public shaming, or it can join the rest of us as soon as possible to help the ongoing movement towards fair wages and ensuring dignity and opportunity throughout our nation’s workforce.

The CIW and the national coordinators at Just Harvest USA encourage consumers to show their support by submitting a letter to their local managers when shopping and emailing Trader Joe’s CEOs.

Sergio España is a Baltimore resident and a member of the Civilian-Soldier Alliance, a national organization of civilian allies taking leadership from veteran and active duty service members  to help support the growing GI Resistance movement. 

For more information please visit www.civsol.org