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Mike hopes to see the world turned upside down through local communities banding together for social change, especially churches which have recognized the radical calling to be good news to the poor, to set free the prisoners and oppressed, and to become the social embodiment of the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven. He lives with the blessed memory of his wife, in Durham, NC, and has three adult children living in three different states. He also shares his life with the Mt. Level Missionary Baptist Church in Durham, the faculty and students of Shaw University Divinity School in Raleigh, NC, and the faithful fans of Duke and Baylor Basketball in his neighborhood.

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Friday, March 05, 2010

Fair Wages and Florida Tomatoes

I joined the campaign to get Kroger to work with the CIW to insure that the tomatoes they sell are picked by people who are paid a fair wage. Some of you have been working on this campaign for several years, dealing with Taco Bell, McDonald's, Burger King, and others. Sojourners contacted me about the Kroger effort, so I used their model letter and added some thoughts of my own. Here is what I sent. I hope many of you will also write to Kroger.

I am a regular Kroger shopper at the 1802 NorthPointe Dr. store in Durham, NC. I like your store brands and your selection of produce. I use the Kroger Plus card and tolerate the self-checkout system.

Twenty-four years ago when my first child was born, we spent the last few evenings waiting for the onset of labor by walking in the Kroger store near downtown Grand Prairie, Texas, including the night before he was born. So I am a fan of Kroger stores.

One of the favorite foods in our family is the tomato. At Kroger, I buy heirloom tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, tomatoes on the vine, locally grown tomatoes, and more. We keep them stocked for sandwiches, salads, and snacks.

As a Christian and a conscientious consumer, I want to be reassured that the workers who pick the tomatoes sold in your stores are paid fair wages and have decent working conditions. I therefore ask The Kroger Company to partner with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) to guarantee that tomato growers are compensated and treated fairly.

I believe everyone is created in the image of God and deserves to be treated with dignity. Yet Florida's tomato pickers currently have to harvest more than 2.5 tons of tomatoes to earn minimum wage for a 10-hour workday. Some pickers have even been held in modern-day slavery rings. I encourage The Kroger Company to work with CIW in confronting and overcoming such horrible exploitation.

Getting this issue resolved to make life more just for tomato pickers has been slow. Targeting Mt. Olive Pickles to help the cucumber pickers was more focused. But tomatoes are not distributed with a national brand. Only the grocery stores and restaurants have the national influence that can change the way tomato pickers are treated.

I have so far participated in boycotts of Taco Bell, McDonald's, and Burger King in the process of getting them to insure that they buy tomatoes from sellers who have paid the pickers a fair wage. I have returned to each chain to buy food in response to their partnership with CIW.

I would rather not boycott Kroger, but this issue is very important to our family. I hate paying premium prices at Whole Foods for products that are not any better than those at Kroger, but I will do it. I hate shopping at the crowded, lower quality Food Lion stores, but I will do it if your much larger national chain will not do your part for the tomato pickers to have a better life.

Please don't make me do this. I know that you have worked with unions for workers in the past, and I hope you will recommit yourself to giving workers a voice and a chance.

Yum Brands, McDonald's, Burger King, Whole Foods, Subway, and Bon Appetit are already partnering with the CIW to improve wages and to uphold a code of conduct for fair working conditions, including zero tolerance for any form of modern slavery. I urge The Kroger Company to do the same.

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