Farmworker coalition signs Chipotle to higher-wage agreement for tomato pickers

Scott McIntyre/Staff 
 Members of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers protest in September 2012 in front of Mercato and Chipotle, asking the food chain to pay more for farmworkers to harvest tomatoes in September. Chipotle has now signed on to do just that.

Photo by SCOTT MCINTYRE // Buy this photo

Scott McIntyre/Staff Members of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers protest in September 2012 in front of Mercato and Chipotle, asking the food chain to pay more for farmworkers to harvest tomatoes in September. Chipotle has now signed on to do just that.

— If a "fair food" agreement were edible, on Thursday it would have been wrapped in a flour tortilla and topped with salsa, as Chipotle Mexican Grill signed on with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers to improve working conditions for tomato pickers.

"It's one more victory, one more support for the community ... That's the future," said Leonel Perez, a member of the Collier-based Coalition, which advocates for farmworkers' rights.

The contract follows a six-year campaign by the Coalition to draft growers and retailers of Florida tomatoes into legally binding agreements. The agreements include pay increases — paid by tomato buyers — for tomato field workers, along with a code of conduct to guide labor practices and curb workplace abuse, and a complaint-resolution mechanism for workers.

Chipotle is the 11th company to sign on to the fair food agreement. Taco Bell was the first in 2005. Most recently, Trader Joe's joined in early 2012.

In 2011, the eatery dished out a Mexican-inspired menu at 1,230 restaurants in the U.S. and abroad, including 65 in Florida.

It was at Chipotle's North Naples location that in September the Coalition rallied about 100 people in support of the agreement and against what it labeled the "Chipocrisy."

The company espouses what it calls a "food with integrity" philosophy, like using dairy products from open-pasture raised cows and locally grown produce. The Coalition said Chipotle's lack of support for the farmworkers' agreement went against that notion, however.

About 15 to 20 percent of the tomatoes the company uses come from Florida, according to Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold.

Arnold said that as more tomato growers signed on — 90 percent of those in Florida now participate in Fair Food — Chipotle felt more at ease that it could get access to a wider choice of produce if quality at one grower diminished.

"Because the program has progressed so much in the last few years, that issue went away," Arnold said.

The Coalition now will focus its pressure on the Lakeland-based Publix chain of supermarkets, members said Thursday.

© 2012 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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