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Tomato protests come to Foggy Bottom Trader Joe's today

August 3, 2011 - 10:07 AM
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Tonight at 5:30, members of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and their supporters flock to D.C.’s Trader Joe’s in Foggy Bottom. Are they seeking Persian cucumbers? Nope, they’re staging a protest.

Organizers promise a gathering on the sidewalk outside of 1101 25th St. NW, where, according to Facebook, they’ll “deliver a letter to the manager, flyer customers for a little while, and have live son jaracho music…and help build a food system that respects workers rights!”

What has Trader Joe’s done to draw all these letters and flyers and son jaracho music? Declined to participate in the coalition’s Fair Food program, which seeks to address the labor issues surrounding tomato farming in Florida. (The abuses in Immokalee, Fla., where most of the nation’s tomatoes are grown, have been well documented.) Among the coalition’s demands: a penny-per-pound premium for fairer wages and a code of conduct to ensure better working conditions. CIW says Whole Foods, McDonald’s, Burger King, and others have signed on, leaving Trader Joe’s the odd one out.

Trader Joe’s fired back at the coalition through a letter on its website this spring, calling the agreement they’ve been asked to sign “overreaching, ambiguous and improper.” It goes to on list its specific objections to the agreement, like a clause that defines the “penny per pound” as “1.5 cents per pound gross premium (or 1.3 cents per pound net premium).” Trader Joe’s declares that “this makes no sense and is at odds with the expressed CIW request for ‘only a penny per pound.’”

Other TJ comebacks: the agreement requires the grocer to pay the total premium whether or not the supply of tomatoes sufficiently meets its demand, or even if Trader Joe’s doesn't buy tomatoes at all. “This, of course, is a ridiculous requirement to which no serious business would agree,” Trader Joe’s states.

The grocer claims it has developed its own solution to the “extra penny per pound” dilemma and accuses the CIW of spreading misinformation in hopes of pressuring the store into signing an agreement that is “poorly conceived and improper on its face.”

Promises Trader Joe’s: “We will not.”

The Market Report has reached out to protest organizers to respond to Trader Joe's letter. We'll update when we hear back.

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