Lucas Benitez, CIW, Remarks at Joint CIW/FTGE Press Conference Immokalee, Florida 11/16/10

“Good morning, everyone, and thank you for joining us on this momentous day for our community and for the Florida tomato industry. We are here to announce a landmark agreement between our organization, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, and the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange.

The timing of today’s announcement couldn’t be more appropriate. Not only is Thanksgiving, our annual celebration of the harvest, just around the corner, but so is the 50th anniversary of the ‘Harvest of Shame,’ the landmark expose of 20th century poverty and degradation in Florida’s fields.

Today, 50 years later, hope, not shame, is on the horizon.

With that hope — and with the hard work and solid plan of action included in this agreement — we will make the concrete changes that will allow us to build a stronger, more sustainable Florida tomato industry for the 21st century.

With this agreement, we will be educating workers, on the job, across the industry, about their rights under this code of conduct.

With this agreement, we will be working with growers to identify and eliminate abuses through a cooperative complaint investigation and resolution system, with real consequences for violations, including zero tolerance for forced labor.

With this agreement, workers across the industry will receive a long-awaited raise, through the penny per pound program. The raise will not change lives overnight. But it will grow with each new retail food company that seizes this historic opportunity, joins us in support of Fair Food, and does its part to help Florida farmworkers receive the decent wage and dignified working conditions they deserve.

And with this agreement, farmworkers will enjoy new protections in the fields, including new health and safety structures to ensure that their concerns are heard on the job, the right to shade to protect from the extremes of Florida’s heat, and an end to the practice of mandatory overfilling of buckets, which has been a source of contention for years in the fields.

Today is not about looking back at the problems of the past.

Rather, today we are pleased to announce that we are coming together as an industry in which it is finally possible to say that real, verifiable change is not only possible, but underway.

And to speed the day when our dream of change becomes a reality, we turn now to the retail food industry and call on those companies to support, without further delay, this unprecedented, industry-wide project for farm labor justice.”