UF's food service provider will hike field workers' wages

Published: Thursday, April 1, 2010 at 8:05 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, April 1, 2010 at 8:05 p.m.

Food service provider Aramark and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers announced a deal Thursday that calls for Aramark to increase wages for tomato pickers by about 70 to 80 percent.

Aramark, which runs food service operations on the University of Florida campus, will pay 1.5 cents more per pound of tomatoes, most of which will go directly to the workers, according to a joint statement from the two organizations.

For years, UF students have protested for higher wages for the farm workers and, in October, UF's Student Senate passed a resolution calling for Aramark to provide better pay and treatment.

In addition to raising wages, the new deal establishes a code of conduct that encourages Aramark to purchase only from tomato growers who refrain from abusive labor practices. Aramark is the eighth company to sign an agreement with the coalition. Others include McDonald's, Burger King and Yum! Brands, which owns restaurants like Taco Bell and KFC.

Florida's tomato pickers currently make about 1.25 cents per pound of tomatoes, according to Marc Rodrigues, an organizer with the Student/Farmworker Alliance, which participated in negotiations. "That rate has essentially been unchanged since 1978, so we're talking about 30 years of stagnant wages," Rodrigues said. "It kind of helps to lift these wages out of subpoverty territory."

Richard Blake, a UF student and member of the Gainesville chapter of the alliance, said the group will be targeting Publix next. It is planning a march from Tampa to Lakeland -- site of Publix's headquarters -- later this month, Blake said, to pressure the company to sign a similar agreement.

Aramark spokeswoman Karen Cutler said the company would not comment on the deal beyond the content of the joint statement.

Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.

▲ Return to Top