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White Plains Rally Will Fight for Tomato Farmers

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- A Westchester farmer has teamed up with a handful of local organizations to rally against the Stop & Shop’s tomato selection and urge the grocery chain’s Dutch owner Ahold to sign an agreement with a labor group.

Will Summers , a Yorktown Heights farmer, said he hoped to raise awareness about the “injustices” Florida tomato pickers experience while harvesting nearly 90 percent of the fresh tomatoes served on American tables from November to May.

“For me, this event is about recognizing human dignity,” Summers said. “No human should be treated inhumanely in order for me and people like me to have the ability to buy cheap tomatoes."

Summers said that Stop & Shop buys tomatoes from farms where workers only make $0.50 for every 32 pounds of crops they pick, which would mean they’d have to pick 2.25 tons of tomatoes to earn a minimum wage during their typical 10-hour day. He and the WESPAC Foundation, El Centro Hispano in White Plains, the South Presbyterian Church of Dobbs Ferry, White Plains Presbyterian Church parishioners and members of Congregation Kol Ami in White Plains will picket the Westchester Avenue store at 3 p.m. Sunday.

The protesters will urge the grocery chain to sign onto the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ Fair Food Program, which they said would raise fieldworkers’ wages a cent per pound, institute a code of conduct with a complaint resolution system and provide workers with a health and safety program.

Besides his wage concerns, Summers said he has heard about sexual harassment and other abuse in the fields.

“When I participated in the CIW's Fast for Fair Food in Florida last month, I heard several stories from farm workers about how commonplace these kinds of mistreatments are,” said Summers. “The Fair Food Program has helped facilitate the prosecution of seven slavery cases since 1997, which is a major accomplishment.”

According to Congregation Kol Ami Rabbi Shira Milgrom, Stop & Shop refuses to join the 10 other corporations and more than 90 percent of Florida farms participating in the Fair Food Program.

“When I buy a tomato at Stop & Shop, I don’t want to contribute to the exploitation of farm workers. I want my purchase to elevate wages and working conditions for these hardworking men and women,” Milgrom said in a statement. “I am appalled at Stop & Shop’s refusal to participate and urge the company to join without delay.”

The Stop & Shop Public Affairs Department did not return a call for comment.

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