To the Editor:
In her letter appearing in the April 5 edition, Marlene Mandeville asks questions about farm workers fasting for fair wages. The answers may be of general interest. Minimum wage is the lowest lawful wage, not the amount of money needed to support a person.
Federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. Florida’s is $7.67. At 40 hours a week, for 52 weeks, this is $15,953, almost $8,000 less than the poverty level for a family of four. Iowa Policy Project estimates Iowa families of four need incomes of $34,400 to remain out of poverty.
Most tomato pickers are paid per bucket. The average weight of a full bucket is 32 pounds and typically pays 50 cents per bucket, a rate that has held for over 10 years. A worker must pick 123 buckets, 3,936 pounds, almost two tons of tomatoes per day, to make minimum wage. Depending on age and strength of the worker, this can require 10-12 hours. The workers are seeking a raise of a penny per pound, 32 cents a bucket. At the same pace, this would yield $100 per day, $26,000 if working 52 weeks.
Addressing improvement of conditions is complex because of varying conditions at different locations. In some instances, shaded break areas with cold water would be an improvement. An opportunity to wash off the pesticides before eating would be another.
Photos of workers did not show emaciated bodies which are signs of irreversible bodily and mental damage. The deleterious effects of malnutrition begin long before they are readily visible, and malnutrition should not be an occupational hazard.
Many growers who supply corporations such as PEPSICO and McDonald’s or other significant tomato customers have already agreed to the penny per pound raise, indicating that good business does not depend on taking advantage of workers.
To the Editor: