Demonstrators gathered outside Trader Joes. Photo: William Newton
Demonstrators gathered outside Trader Joe’s. Photo: William Newton

A group of protestors demonstrated outside Trader Joe’s on University Avenue on Saturday to encourage the chain to pressure Florida tomato growers into treating their workers more fairly.

Tomato pickers in Florida are among the poorest in the country, and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers has successfully waged campaigns against Taco Bell and McDonalds to get them to sign a “fair food agreement.” The coalition is holding actions in California this month to get Trader Joe’s to demand more humane labor standards from their Florida tomato growers.

Frances Dinkelspiel

Frances Dinkelspiel (co-founder) is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California,...

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38 Comments

  1. What were the picketers paid? If they’re as heavy the usual union pros they’d make a fortune at a penny a pound/hr.

  2. There is NOTHING wrong with Trader Joe’s. They provide excellent products at reasonable prices and have great service. You are taking your stupid little protest to them because you know how important their image and the environment is to them. 

    There is NOTHING wrong with paying tomato pickers the wage they are being paid. If you don’t like it – donate your own money to these farm workers. No one put a gun to their head and forced them to pick tomatoes. 

    You crazy left loons need to find something worthwhile to think about… how about getting our troops out of Japan, Germany, Guam, Italy, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya… etc. etc. etc. 

    Or, how about the fact that Jell-o Pudding Pops were discontinued – that would be a great reason to picket. 

    Up with Pudding Pops! 

  3. Why buy tomatoes grown in Florida at all?  The climate and soil are wrong for tomatoes, which requires growers to blast them with fertilizers, pesticides, etc.  Florida tomatoes are grown in SAND.  Every nutrient that the tomato will need as it grows must be added in the form of fertilizer.

  4. When I am checking out at the store and someone is screaming at me through the window with a hostile, frenzied expression of rage, and another one tries to come into the store and makes a big an unnecessary, hysterical scene right in front of me. Then when it is hard to exit the store and I am harassed by a screaming mob outside. This actually happened.

  5. I agree.  We have partial information on contract so who is to say if it is legitimate or not?  And the idea that an outside entity gets to require which vendors any private company can work with is way over the line. There are both tangible and intangible benefits in TJs doing the right thing and supporting fair practice vendors, but I would never support them being required to do so by some outside party.  That’s completely wrong-headed, even if done with good intentions.

  6. The high prices at the farmer’s market limit (without eliminating) participation in the market by lower income people.  Among other effects, this helps to set a social atmosphere and reputation for which, it seems, some people are willing to pay a premium.   The incentives align for farmers to maintain high prices and limited production focused mostly on heritage crops.

    If the prices were more often competitive with grocery stores, and the emphasis less on boutique varieties, I bet they’d be crushed by shoppers and have much more trouble keeping up with demand.   As it stands, there is a discounted after-market for surplus from the farmers’ markets.

    With a different crop selection and lower price emphasis, there would be incentive for more collaboration on stalls (to achieve efficiencies of scale).  There would be more revenue for the farms and the markets would better serve one nominal goal: helping to improve regional food security and quality by expanding the market for organic, local produce.   Margins for farms would be lower and so the winners would be those more ready, willing, and able to scale up production.   It would be less common to personally “know your grower” although the supply chain could still be transparent and trustworthy.

    In the alternative, they can go on indefinitely as the fairly lucrative block parties and heritage crop boutiques that they largely are — but probably they should consider adding a petting zoo.

  7. Trader Joe’s Statement:
    “The draft agreement contains a confidentiality requirement that can be
    breached upon the sole judgment of the CIW. That is among the reasons we
    believe the draft agreement is improper.”

    CIW Response:
    “This, again, is just wrong. It appears that
    Trader Joe’s has confused the Agreement itself with the Code of Conduct.
    The CIW can of course disclose the Code as it wishes, as could Trader
    Joe’s, for that matter.”

    If the Code does not include a confidentiality requirement, why did they bring up the Code?
    Trader Joe’s is saying that the Agreement has a confidentiality requirement, and the response from CIW does not deny that statement.

    Either whoever is writing for the CIW is deeply confused, or they’re purposefully obfuscating the issue. Either way, they don’t seem very trustworthy.

  8. Let’s be honest here, the CIW website, literature, and organization is classic propaganda as well.
    Propaganda for a good cause is still propaganda.

  9. Tizzie, how do you know that the documents signed by those companies are the same as the document that the CIW is expecting TJ’s to sign?
    How do you know that the documents signed by each of those groups are identical?

    How much do you actually know about the agreement(s) that the CIW is expecting these companies to sign? Have you ever seen the full text of the agreement?

  10. I am not saying that there is nothing wrong with the treatment of the farm workers.
    I am merely saying that the alleged CIW demand that they be able to dictate the choice of vendors for companies is outrageous and counter-productive.

    I’ve looked at the CIW website, and tried to find the agreement there, but with all the 404 errors and broken links I can’t find it anywhere. Why doesn’t the CIW have the full text of the agreement that they’re demanding be signed available on their website?

    Why are people willing to protest against companies that won’t sign a document that they haven’t seen?

  11. I am not saying that there is nothing wrong with the treatment of the farm workers.
    I am merely saying that the alleged CIW demand that they be able to dictate the choice of vendors for companies is outrageous and counter-productive.

    I’ve looked at the CIW website, and tried to find the agreement there, but with all the 404 errors and broken links I can’t find it anywhere. Why doesn’t the CIW have the full text of the agreement that they’re demanding be signed available on their website?

    Why are people willing to protest against companies that won’t sign a document that they haven’t seen?

  12. I think some of the comments in this conversation about TJ’s and the CIW focusses on form over substance.  TJ’s position is classic propaganda, used in a classic way to manipulate and keep people focussed on spin and keep people ignoring the underlying human suffering that means less to the spinners than their greed. Standing on artifice and posing rhetoric (spin) and ignoring the underlying realities of actual humans has to stop in all sectors.  Corporations have plenty of power. Some social responsibility is not a sin, doing the right thing because it is the right thing is possible, even for heartless corporations.

  13. I haven’t been to the Ferry Building farmers market in awhile but I thought the prices there were better than the Berkeley Farmers Market prices.  I know it is Berkeley heresy to criticize our farmers markets but I am convinced there is a lot of price gouging at Berkeley farmers markets, whatever the market will bear. And they get the prices they ask so it’s working. 

  14. You say there is no way any responsible company would sign the CIW requests and yet McDnald’s, Subway, Burger King and others have subscribed to the CIW Code of Conduct. Which irresponsible companies can you identify that have refused CIW”s demands besides TJs? Please identify those companies.

  15. The TJ’s response paper is full of distortions, aka lies carefully spun to shape and manipulate right-leaning free market corporatists and to lull customers into choosing to support corporate power over human wellbeing.

    I’m fed up with the way so many in this culture pay stiff allegiance to free market spin as a way to ignore the real life injustices that are perpetuated if people buy the spin. 

    Let’s get real:  it is unconscionsable that the pickers have been so grossly underpaid for decades while hugely profitable corporations have ignored their plight for the sake of worshipping free market capitalism. Enough already.

  16. I imagine that this sort of thing happens all the time, since third parties are often used for verification of organic practices, fair trade, etc., although the details certainly vary.  Germane to this case is that McDonald’s subscribes to the CIW Code of Conduct.  Although one may debate what constitutes a “responsible company”, it would be hard to argue that McD’s doesn’t know what they’re doing.

  17. I don’t know but I am skeptical of TJs explanation.  Some of it is paraphrased and interpretations rather than the exact language of the entire agreement.  I am not all that familiar with CIW but others have expressed that they have a good reputation for protecting workers.  As with a lot of these situations, the real truth probably lies somewhere in between.

  18. It doesn’t matter. There’s no way any responsible company should hand that much power over to a third party. CIW’s demands are outrageous.

  19. CIW published a rebuttal to the Trader Joe’s statement, which includes this response to the point addressed in Sharkey’s comment at 4:15:

    “The provision on termination of growers who are out of compliance with
    the Code of Conduct is hardly as arbitrary as Trader Joe’s says. Trader
    Joe’s has to cut off a grower if the independent auditor, or any other
    source that the CIW and Trader Joe’s both find acceptable, reports that a
    grower is out of compliance. So, for example, if the Justice Dept
    reported a slavery case on a farm, we and Trader Joe’s would not have to
    wait for the auditor to confirm that before cutting off the grower.”

    The point by point response can be found at http://ciw-online.org/TJ_point_by_point.html

  20. I think that pretty much all the farmer’s markets price themselves based on location. It’s no surprise, for instance, that the Ferry Building’s market is by far the most expensive. I think one reason the Berkeley market is more expensive than some others is that it’s all organic–someone please correct me if I’m wrong.  (Personally, I think that organics as they are currently practiced are somewhat suspect; I would place greater importance on over all sustainability.)

    Nevertheless, I don’t think that the Berkeley farmer’s market is really that unreasonable, you just have to price shop and know where to go for what items. For instance, Swanson’s strawberries, while more expensive than Berkeley Bowl’s, are more consistently sweet and flavorful, in my opinion. The same goes for much of of the stone-fruit. In some cases, things are cheaper too: I have found superb heirloom tomatoes, salad mix, and basil at the farmers market for less than what I’ve paid at Berkeley bowl. On the other hand, I almost never buy citrus fruit or avocados at the farmer’s market because I don’t feel the difference in their quality justifies the price. Also, I think some people place value in knowing where their food comes from and having a relationship with the stallholders they buy it from. It’s a value not everyone holds or can afford, but I don’t begrudge people that value either.

  21. Did you actually read the response from Trader Joe’s?The agreement that the CIW is asking Trader Joe’s to sign apparently gives the CIW the legal right to dictate Trader Joes’ choice of vendors.

    http://www.traderjoes.com/pdf/attachments/Note-to-Customers-about-Florida-Tomatoes.pdf

    It’s one thing to ask them to pay a little more, or boycott a grower, but asking for the right to dictate their choice of vendors? I can’t understand why any company would agree to that.

  22. Here is an official quote from a top executive with Aldi, the owner of Trader Joe’s, when questioned about the penny a pound raise:  “A Note to Our Customers About Florida Tomatoes and the CIW” claimed that the agreement for Fair Food was “overreaching, ambiguous, and improper.” It accused the CIW of “spreading misleading and not factual information.”  

    CIW stands for Coalition of Immokali Workers, the group that represents the tomato pickers. Trader Joe’s has accused CIW of all kinds of completely false failings, in a campaign of slander. That’s why picket TJ’s.

    CIW has won many prestigious awards honoring their work on behalf of oppressed farmworkers, including ending some slavery that was going on right there in Florida.

    A fight over a penny a pound seems hard for most of us to believe but I think it has dragged on for far too long because these workers are at the lowest economic rung, victims of bigotry and callousness and, of course, greed. It seems like a no brainer. Who wouldn’t pay a penny a pound to greatly improve the lives of still-poor, hardworking laborers? Greedy people, that’s who.

  23. Wow! Thank you for the link!
    Reading the expanded explanation on the Trader Joe’s website is a real eye-opener.
    I doubt that most of the people waving signs and screaming in front of Trader Joe’s are aware that they’re already started paying the extra 1¢ per pound, and that the debate at this point is simply because the corporation refuses to sign the bizarre CIW agreement that gives the CIW the legal right to dictate Trader Joes’ choice of vendors.

    http://www.traderjoes.com/pdf/attachments/Note-to-Customers-about-Florida-Tomatoes.pdf

    I guess this is just another example of how people in Berkeley are willing to protest against anything at all, even if they don’t understand what they’re protesting about.

  24. Thank heaven for Trader Joe’s, who have significantly reduced my grocery bills since they opened their Berkeley store.  I had the misfortune to be shopping at the store on Saturday when this aggressive and threatening mob converged on the entrance, shouting nonsensical slogans and attempting to intimidate law-abiding customers.

    Here is the company’s statement on the situation, which details the unreasonable and incoherent demands they face from these thugs:
    http://www.traderjoes.com/about/customer-updates-responses.asp?i=60

  25. Actually if you picket TJ’s you help convince them to buy their produce elsewhere. When they purchase from a farmer in Florida who refuses to pay fair wages, they are directly supporting that behavior.

    This is why we stopped buying grapes in the 80’s. You and I aren’t likely to travel to Florida to protest the farmer directly, but we can have an impact right here.

  26. A reason to picket the retailers, in addition to picketing the employers, is because coalitions of many large businesses have literally banded together and lobbied the employers of the tomato pickers, demanding that the employers of the farm laborers comply with the corporate demands.

    A reason to picket the retailers is that the retailers are larger entities than the employers of the tomato pickers and they use their collective power to control the pricing.

    This issue has been going on a long time. The farm owners agree to raise prices by a penney a pound and the retailers threaten to stop buying. That’s why folks are picketing Tj’s. It’s one step forward, then two steps back.

    It’s not just grocery stores. I have read that large fast food franchising corporations have very aggressively opposed the penny a pound.

  27. I was grateful to read your comment that the Berkeley Farmer’s Market prices seem quite a bit higher than farmer’s markets in neighboring communities. I think the vendors at Berkeley Farmer’s Market have a policy of charging the highest possible prices, that they try to set prices at ‘whatever the market will bear’ and then add a small premium above that.  It shocks me how everything there is so much higher.

    I thought that a farmers market eliminated the middle man, the wholesaler, allowing farmers to directly sell to consumers and that both farmers and consumers could benefit from the savings. .. but at Berkeley Farmers Markets there seems to be a baseline assumption that people will pay any price asked at the Berk markets, as if there is sme special premium about buying in Berkeley. Or something.

    With very, very few exceptions, anything you can buy at a Berkeley Farmer’s market is available as an organic, as local and fresh at Berkeley Bowl.

    And it’s not just the fresh produce. $3.50 for a tiny brownie at the Berkeley market?  Organic ingredients don’t justify the price gouging. If Starbucks can sell a much larger brownie for $1.90, then a baker selling at the Berk Farmer’s market should be able to deliver a much smaller, albiet organic ingrediented brownie for less than $3.50.

    How is it possible to buy a jar of CA grown organic almond butter at Whole Paycheck for $11 but the same size jar at the Berk Market, sold directly by the producer to the consumer with no middle wholesalers taking a piece, costs $16? It’s gouging, plain and simple.

    I love Berkeley. I love the festive atmosphere of the Sat market (which is the one I go to) but the only thing I buy is a half pound of salad greens for three bucks.  I go for the community, not the high priced food.

  28. But Trader Joe’s isn’t the company that’s paying the wages that you’re upset about. Trader Joe’s can buy from someone else, but that doesn’t actually help the workers in the fields.

  29. You ask “Why not picket the employers”?  This IS information I want to know and how would I know if the employers were being picketed?  I can decide for myself if I want to support TJ’s and others or not. 
     

  30. If I remember correctly, Barry Estabrook author of “Tomatoland”, said that this movement asks the supermarkets to pay one more penny per pound. I don’t know what that would translate to in retail pricing, but I doubt most of us would object or even feel it. That is, if Trader Joe’s even sold produce that isn’t so disappointing.

  31. It looks like we’re in complete agreement about the produce at Trader Joe’s. I find that Berkeley Bowl is much better both in terms of quality and price, or when I want something more exotic, I’ll head over to one of the asian markets in Albany.

    But I’m not a big fan of the Berkeley Farmer’s Market. Their prices seem quite a bit higher than farmer’s markets in neighboring communities.

  32. Another good question is, why would anyone buy produce, let alone Florida (?!?) tomatoes, at TJ’s? Love Trader Joes, though I do, their produce is not the most impressive. Moreover, the weekly farmer’s market is a mere two blocks away.

  33. To attempt to answer your legitimate question…  Presumably because it’s a lot easier to preach to the choir in a place like Berkeley, far from the real “action”, surrounded by mostly likeminded, sympathetic and generally supportive residents, holding your picket sign for “justice,” than to stand at edge of a sweltering farm in central Florida bathed in mosquito repellant and keeping one eye out for mean farm dogs and another for gators emerging from the nearby swamp or sewage pond, not to mention other local species who probably don’t care for “your kind in these parts”.

    And while one could legitimately argue that Caesar Chavev and the UFW really did represent some farm workers, the group pictured above certainly does not.

  34. Why not picket the employers who are paying the poor wages instead of the stores that carry their merchandise? I realize that the merchants play a role as well, but it seems like the bulk of the rage should be directed at the folks who are actually paying the wages that people are angry about instead of at retailers like TJ & Taco Bell.