Romeo Ramirez knows a thing or two about abuse. Ramirez became a spokesperson for the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) in the mid '90s after witnessing a fellow worker being beaten for taking a water break. After nearly 20 years in the Florida tomato-picking business, he has seen it all: beatings, exploitation, and other forms of corrupt business practices.
But now, Ramirez is seeing a change in the system.
A month ago, East Coast Growers and Packers, one of the largest suppliers of tomatoes during the winter months in the U.S., signed an agreement to raise the wage of workers by a penny per pound.
Despite threats from the powerful Florida Growers Exchange to fine companies $100,000 if they supported the wage increase, East Coast Growers and Packers joined the CIW campaign for fair farming practices and withdrew their membership in the Exchange. East Coast Growers and Packers join big-name food chains such as Taco Bell, Burger King, Chipotle, and Subway in the fight for fair food practices.
Following suit, on Friday, Sept. 25, the world's largest food service company, Compass Group, announced its decision to follow the penny per pound rule. Compass Group also agreed to buy tomatoes only from Florida growers who implement the penny per pound rule and treat their workers fairly.
Next up? Kroger Company -- the nation's second largest supermarket company. Due to its size, the Kroger Company has the purchasing power to either greatly lower or greatly raise the prices from their tomato suppliers.
Many of the farmers who provide Kroger with tomatoes make about $10,000 a year -- below the poverty line for Florida workers. With the penny per pound increase, however, migrant worker salaries will rise to around $17,000 -- above the poverty line. Such a small difference can make a huge impact.
As a Christian, I firmly believe in God's call for us to act justly and love mercy. Justice for migrant workers has been a long time coming and these recent signs of progress should encourage all of us that our advocacy can make a difference.
Sojourners is a strong supporter of the worker-led and run CIW and we're joining the coalition in targeting Kroger Company.
Megan Grove is the campaign intern for Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CCIR).