Industry News | September 10, 2009

Chipotle Agrees to Increase Tomato-Picker Wages

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Chipotle Mexican Grill announced that it reached an agreement with East Coast Farms, one of Florida’s largest tomato growers, under which workers who harvest tomatoes for Chipotle will receive an additional penny per pound, a wage increase of 64 percent, for tomatoes picked for Chipotle.

The agreement between Chipotle and East Coast Farms comes following months of discussion between Chipotle and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), a community-based organization that has led a campaign to improve wages and working conditions for Florida farm workers.

Similar agreements between other large tomato buyers, like Chipotle, and the CIW have been blocked by a Florida tomato industry cooperative. Under most of those agreements, money earmarked for farm workers is accumulating in escrow accounts rather than reaching the farm workers for whom it is intended. By working directly with East Coast Farms, Chipotle will be able to pass the additional wages directly to the workers.

“We have a decade-long track record of working to improve the nation’s food supply system,” says Steve Ells, founder, chairman, and co-CEO of Chipotle. “Our efforts have always been rooted in doing the right things, and in finding solutions that have a real impact. By working directly with East Coast Farms to improve wages and working conditions for workers who harvest tomatoes for Chipotle, we have taken another important step forward.”

Chipotle conducted a review of growers to find one that was willing to do the right thing for workers. East Coast Farms, a leader in the industry, demonstrated a willingness to work with Chipotle to do what is right for their workers from the beginning.

“Chipotle has been a leader in driving change in the nation’s food supply,” says Batiste Madonia, sales manager with East Coast Farms. “When their representatives came to us to negotiate this agreement, we agreed that it was the right thing to do. With this framework in place, we hope to work with other companies that are looking to make similar improvements to wages and working conditions for Florida farm workers.”

Under the agreement with East Coast Farms, farm workers who pick tomatoes for Chipotle will see their pay go from 50 cents for a 32-pound bucket of tomatoes to 82 cents. That translates to a 64 percent increase for all of the tomatoes they pick for Chipotle.

“This agreement will make a difference in the lives of workers who pick tomatoes for Chipotle,” Ells says. “But our commitment goes well beyond this. We are constantly looking at all of the ingredients we use, and how we can use our purchasing power to improve conditions for farm workers, raise animal welfare standards, and minimize environmental impacts. These choices come at a price, giving Chipotle the highest food costs in the industry. But we continue to think it is the right way to run our business. It’s how we are changing the way people think about and eat fast food.”