This past weekend I was in St. Petersburg, FL attending, A Sustainable Faith conference. The over all theme of the conference was what is the responsibility of people of faith to the environment, and how is that made practical.
I was deeply impacted by a panel session. The panel session, moderated by Doug Pagitt, was between Brian McLaren, Silvia Perez, and her interpretter. Silvia Perez represents the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. More than 90% of our country's out-of-season tomatoes come from Immokalee (located on the west coast of Florida). These tomatoe farms are worked by immigrants from Guatemala, Honduras, and Haiti. The conditions faced are bleak. The workers are paid sub-poverty wages, $.45-.55 per 32lb. bucket of tomatoes. One worker would have to pick 2 tons of tomatoes to make $50 a day. This price base has not been increased in nearly 30 years. The workers are only paid for when they pick, they are not compensated for the time they spend working the land or doing any other farm activities. There is no vacation or sick time. If one of these workers misses a day because of sickness, his job will most likely not be there for him the next day.These workers often times live in farm housing, where there wages are deducted to pay for rent in this substandard housing. On these farms, just so we can have tomatoes, modern day slavery still exists.
The only way to describe how this experience has humbled me is to say that I am embarrassed. I live in a 2,500 square foot house, I have two cars (neither, more than 3 years old), I get more than 4 weeks of paid time off annually, and 11 paid holidays, I enjoy my job, I make $40,000 a year (combined family income is nearly $80,000). And yet, I complain because I haven't had a raise in 4 years.
I am not the only complainer. I hear many in our profession complaining. Complaining of not getting pay raises, forfeiting "step-pay", losing kelly days, not getting special team/incentive pay, cutting tuition reimbursment from the budget. Who are we to complain? We are in this profession by choice. If we don't like it, we can make another choice. But, perhaps we should just reflect on how good we really do have it. Perhaps we should just be thankful that we have been given the opportunities that we have. Our lives really aren't that bad. I, for one, have been changed.
To combat the unfair labor situation of these Immokalee farm workers the CIW created the Fair Food Program. The Fair Food Program is a collaboration between farmers, workers, and retail corporations. Corporations sign onto the program stating that they will only work with farms that treat there workers humanly, provide a fair wage, and support a healthy work environment. Corporations that have signed on include McDonalds, Subway, Trader Joes, Whole Foods, and ten others.
Publix is one of the largest retailers of tomatoes. For the last 3 years, Publix has refused to sign onto the Fair Food Agreement. They have refused to pay an additional $.01 per pound of tomatoes (yes, that is 1 penny). We, the consumer, would not even notice a one penny price increase, or stop buying there tomatoes. One cent may not seem like much, but that one penny translates to a 64% raise for the farmworkers, an increase of this magnitude would improve there quality of life in a major way!