From News-Press.com, “Editorial: Workers deserve back pay” 22 Sept 2011.
It’s important – no, imperative – that the “penny-more-per-pound” promise be honored to the fullest.
The News-Press Editorial Board named the Coalition of Immokalee Workers the People of the Year of 2010 precisely because of its campaign to fight for better wages for tomato pickers.
We considered it a noble mission to demand fairer pay for farmworkers – a penny more per pound for every bucket of tomatoes picked.
That’s why it’s disturbing to see class-action lawsuits filed against four fast-food companies for failing to distribute $2 million in wages.
While the coalition is not named in the lawsuits, plaintiffs’ attorney Greg Schell of the Migrant Farmworker Justice Project said the group has encouraged the companies not to distribute the money.
The suits, filed by 16 workers on behalf of a total of 2,000, may have no merit, but they have potentially exposed some weaknesses and pitfalls in the coalition’s campaign.
They create the impression that there wasn’t a precise accountability measure in place to make sure all workers received their extra and back pay.
Some of the companies acknowledge they did not have information on all workers.
And, even though Taco Bell, one of the companies named in the suits, and the coalition gave an accrued $225,000 to the Harry Chapin Food Bank this year to feed hungry people in Immokalee, that money was meant for wages.
Who made that decision and why?
Higher wages were the promise supporters bought into when they agreed to back this cause.
The demand, so minor, but those cents accumulated over time.
The other fast-food companies targeted in the suits are McDonald’s, Burger King and Subway.
This year the coalition initiated a highly publicized campaign and protest tour to urge Publix to sign on as well.
The coalition has had little comment on the lawsuits except to claim that the allegations are false.
We encourage the coalition to more assertively describe how much money has been collected, how and when it was distributed, and what it will do to ensure transparency in the future.
The perception of any wrongdoing could hurt its campaign against Publix and could hurt confidence in future efforts.
From 2007 to 2010 the extra money wasn’t distributed because of resistance from tomato growers, but the historic agreement in November 2010 between the coalition and the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange opened the door to seeing workers get paid.
That means all workers eligible for that money should be paid.
That was the promise made. It’s a promise that should be kept.