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Archive for Thursday, November 18, 2010

Kansas community activists seeking boost in tomato pickers’ wages

November 18, 2010

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— A group of Kansas community activists has joined an effort seeking pay raises for workers picking tomatoes in Florida.

A half dozen protesters on Tuesday hand-delivered a letter to the Dillon grocery stores office in Hutchinson on Tuesday. They asked that the letter be passed on to David Dillon, the CEO of Kroger, which is the nation's largest grocery chain and owns the Dillon groceries.

The letter asks Kroger to sign an agreement with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers to guarantee that workers picking tomatoes be paid one penny more per pound. The Florida-based coalition says pickers are paid about 50 cents per pound, the same wage they've been paid for 30 years.

The coalition has signed agreements with McDonald's, Taco Bell, Yum! Brands, Burger King and Subway, as well as food suppliers Sodexo, Aramark and Compass Groups, according to The Hutchinson News.

Benjamin Jefferies, of Lawrence Fair Food, said it's important that Kroger sign an agreement that involves both growers and pickers.

"Only when Kroger signs on will the workers get it," he said. The protesters also included a representative of the Student Farm Workers Alliance. A dozen ministers in Lawrence drafted the letter, which the group handed to Sean Hammond of Dillon's human resources office.

Jefferies said the Kansas group has been in contact with Sheila Lowrie, communications coordinator for Dillon Stores in Hutchinson, for several months, but received no commitment from the company so far.

Lowrie said the letter will be forwarded to Dillon.

"We do take this issue and allegations of this kind very seriously," Lowrie said. "Our own inspectors continue to be in this region, touring farms and visiting suppliers to understand conditions firsthand."

She said the company has a "vendor code of conduct" its suppliers must comply with, Lowrie said, which includes following U.S. Department of Labor regulations as well as the Fair Labor Standards Act.

"The information they provided will definitely be shared with our team at Kroger," Lowrie said.

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