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Victory: Trader Joe's Signs Fair Food Agreement, Promising Better Conditions for Workers

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers's agreement with Trader Joe's is a significant step forward its efforts to bring fairness and accountability to the food industry.

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Throughout the months that it rebuffed CIW’s call for a Fair Food Agreement, Trader Joe’s insisted that it was already paying the extra penny-per-pound. Given that major growers were already signed on, that may well have been true—which suggests that Trader Joe’s true objection may have been less about spending money than about sacrificing power.

Although CIW never called a boycott of Trader Joe’s, “it was always a possibility if we needed to get there,” says CIW staffer Julia Perkins. In November, CIW sent an e-mail promoting a campaign by the New York Community/ Farmworker Alliance to send “Dear Joe” letters breaking up with the company over its refusal to sign a Fair Food Agreement. “The persistence of fair food activists,” says Perkins, “and of their consumers too, who kept going over and over to them…helped to show them that this was something they wanted to do.”

In August interviews ( for Alternet) during their East Coast Trader Joe’s Tour, Immokalee tomato workers Oscar Otzoy and Wilson Perez described how the 2010 agreements had, along with improving their wages, changed their working conditions: managers stopped rampantly stealing wages, denying breaks, and demanding sex in exchange for less strenuous assignments.

Their pay remains well short of a living wage.  But for the first time, said Perez, “We have a voice in the camps.”

Whole Foods was the first major supermarket to sign a Fair Food Agreement; Trader Joe’s is the second. Perkins says Trader Joe’s “didn’t agree to anything less” than Whole Foods had in its own agreement. CIW’s next major target is Publix, which has been refusing requests to sign an agreement.  

CIW and religious allies have announced a six-day protest fast outside Publix headquarters that will begin March 5. Publix, charges Perkins, is “not just turning their back and refusing to meet with us, but really being a blockade in the road to truly changing conditions for farmworkers.”  But she expects Publix will eventually follow Trader Joe’s and Publix in signing on to the Fair Food model.  “It’s really the future of the industry.”

Josh Eidelson is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia. He worked as a union organizer for five years. Check out his blog or follow him on Twitter.

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