(UPDATED COVERAGE, Feb. 16) A Florida farmworker group is claiming victory in its attempts to pressure tomato buyers to pay more money to farmworkers, signing up Trader Joe’s to its penny-per-pound increase plan.

CIW strikes agreement with Trader Joe’sSo far, the program has paid farmworkers millions of dollars in extra pay.

Immokalee, Fla.-based Coalition of Immokalee Workers and Monrovia, Calif.-based Trader Joe’s Co. signed an agreement that formalizes how the supermarket chain plans to work with the CIW and Florida’s tomato growers in paying tomato workers an extra penny per pound.

The agreement, announced Feb. 9, follows the mid-February opening of Trader Joe’s in Naples, Fla., its first Florida store.

Trader Joe’s declined to comment.

In the deal, Trader Joe’s in the deal agrees to pay the extra penny to be passed onto workers through the growers’ payroll system, said Gerardo Reyes, a CIW spokesman.

Reyes said the CIW manages the agreements tomato buyers make with the CIW and said he isn’t sure who sells to the retailer. As the extra funds are tied to purchase volumes, Reyes said how much money any individual buyer pays into to the fair food program remains confidential. He said contract confidentiality also protects disclosure of volume information.

“This deal comes at a really important time,” Reyes said. “Trader Joe’s is sending the message that they would buy from Florida and that they are committing to buy from the growers that are participating under that fair food code of conduct. This galvanizes the relationship with the Florida tomato industry to improve labor standards despite the challenges in the marketplace now.”

Trader Joes’ has 376, primarily in the West and Pacific Northwest, but there are locations throughout the country.

In 2009, Mulberry, Fla.-based East Coast Brokers and Packers Inc. became the first large commercial Florida tomato grower and packer to strike a deal with the CIW by entering into agreements with Denver-based Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. and contract foodservice purveyor Compass Group North America.

Other growers, including Palmetto, Fla.-based Pacific Tomato Growers Ltd., entered into similar deals before the Maitland-based Florida Tomato Growers Exchange in late 2010 signed a deal committing its grower members to pass onto workers the additional funds paid by tomato buyers.

Last season and through January, buyers paid more than $4 million through the program, Reyes said. Participating buyers cover all the costs of increasing worker incomes, he said.

The funds go directly to payroll expenses, with at least 87% of all amounts passed from  growers to workers. Reyes said. Growers may retain the remaining funds to pay for additional payroll and related taxes incurred by the higher wages, he said.

Growers bear some expenses, Reyes said, including the elimination of the practice of cupping buckets. The new standard credits workers for all the pounds they harvest, Reyes said. 

Additionally, the farms pay for improvements such as the code-required providing shade in the fields and growers support ongoing worker education by having that done on the clock, he said.