By Vicky Boyd, Editor

The Maitland-based Florida Tomato Growers Exchange has begun offering a social responsibility program that includes supplemental wages for workers and a code that covers employment practices.

The new program was the result of the board rescinding its policy on Oct. 7, 2009, that prohibited members from participating in wage-supplementation programs or providing payroll information to third parties, according to a news release.

The program is open to all retail and food-service customers of exchange growers, who represent about 75 percent of the state's fresh-market tomato production.

The participating growers agree to pass through to their employees funds that are earmarked by their customers as supplemental wages. The program also includes a new grower code of conduct designed to dovetail with their customers’ own social responsibility programs.

“We are committed to this program, made possible through negotiations with our customers,” exchange Vice President Reggie Brown said in the release. “It allows us to meet our own standards, our customers’ expectations, and those of their customers and stakeholders.”

The code of conduct includes a system for seasonal workers to pursue work-related complaints, an educational program to ensure workers know their wage rights and a safe workplace.

The amount of the supplemental pay is up to each customer.

The supplement will be deposited in an escrow account, from which the workers will be paid. It will be displayed on paychecks as a separate line item.

In addition, growers and their customers agree to be audited by third parties to ensure tomato purchases and the supplemental wages are being recorded accurately.