A penny per pound more, is what we’re fighting for: Locals challenge Kroger Co. to pay farmworkers better

by Susan Lakes

Walk into a Kroger store and walk out with a few pounds of juicy ripe tomatoes. You cut them up, or slice one for that BLT. Maybe you eat a few slices along with your toast and eggs. Or maybe you keep the tomato whole and stuff it with some tuna or chicken salad.

It doesn’t matter how you slice it, the farmworkers who might have picked that big red orb want a pay raise. A penny per pound pay raise. That’s what pickers in the $1.3 billion tomato industry want to see for their labor.

Just a single a penny per pound more could double the pay for the workers, according to advocacy groups that are joining the fight for fair wages and better working conditions for farmworkers.

The fight hit close to home Thursday, June 24 when The Coalition of Immokalee Workers, the Interfaith Worker Center and concerned citizens teamed with Fair Food Ohio for a peaceful informational protest outsidethe location where suits from Kroger gathered for an annual shareholders’ meeting.

The group targeted Kroger since it has high-power purchasing power that could play a role in feeding into or curbing farmworker exploitation.

The Immokalee Workers, an internationally recognized Florida farmworker organization, knows the feeling of success, and the group is hopeful the Kroger campaign yields a fair foods agreement similar to the ones put in place with other corporate giants including McDonald’s, Subway and Whole Foods.

The Cincinnati gathering kicked off the actions of a new group called Fair Food Ohio, according to Sue Carter. She got interested in farmworkers’ issue after doing some tutoring in Florida, and hearing the workers share horror stories.

Carter moved to Ohio and remained interested and active in farmworker issues.

“We can organize Ohio,” she said, adding that she “struck gold” when she hooked up with Dan Moore, outreach worker, at the local Interfaith Worker Center.

Moore and others pulled together a group of people who carried signs, screamed chants and handed out informational literature to the suits as they walked into the shareholders meeting.

Three shareholders denied opportunities to make comments to Streetvibes. Many of them politely refused the pamphlets and literature offered by the protesters.