Last weekend a group from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers visited our house and we joined them at their protest at Publix, our area's largest supermarket chain. The CIW has approached the corporation asking that they join other large businesses in supporting fair labor practices for tomato pickers by doing the following:
- Paying an additional penny a pound for tomatoes.
- Implementing an enforceable code of conduct to ensure safe and fair working conditions, including zero tolerance for modern-day slavery.
- Ensuring a voice for farm workers in monitoring improvements and reporting abuses.
The grinding poverty these folks live with has left them vulnerable to terrible abuses by employers. There have been seven cases of slavery convicted in the last twelve years - one less than a year ago. The support of big chains like Publix would go a long way in ensuring that this never happens again.
As a family and community, we look very forward to our visits from the CIW. They are kind and hardworking people, and their cause is so unquestionably just. What an irony that the folks who put food on our table cannot afford to feed their own families. And what a food system that ignores the human rights of one of its most vital components. It seems so simple - just a penny more a pound, and some basic human decency.
Truth be told, we don't shop at Publix very often these days, preferring to patronize a small grocer that sells local food. But I have often in the past, and most of the folks I know here in Gainesville do. I am sending the following letter to the mangers of our local Publixes and to the corporate office. If you live near one, will you consider doing so as well? Also, if you can, please take a moment to listen to CIW member Gerardo's eloquent and moving plea for justice last Sunday at a local church (it's between minutes 29 and 35 if you don't want to listen to the whole service :)).
Dear Publix Manager,
I have shopped at Publix often in my life. As a child I accompanied my mother on her trips to the Plantation, Florida store. As an adult, I have lived near and shopped at your stores regularly and not only because of familiarity. I have appreciated your efforts to employ developmentally disabled folks in our community. I have seen firsthand how going that extra mile to recruit, train, and support them in their work has been helpful to them and heartwarming to shoppers. In addition, your recent efforts to offer “greenwise” products that are more sensitive to the environment and, at some stores, local produce has been appreciated by me and many others.
For these reasons, I was surprised to hear that you refused to talk with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers to discuss their requests for minor changes that would raise their standard of living and help them support their families. I understand workers earn only 40-50 cents for every 32 lb. bucket of tomatoes and must pick 2.5 TONS of tomatoes in order to earn a minimum wage during a typical 10-hour day. Their poverty leaves them vulnerable to the most exploitative employers and there have been some terrible labor rights abuses, including modern-day slavery. Since 1997 there have been seven convicted cases of slavery involving 1000 Immokalee farm workers – the most recent of which was less than a year ago. As purchaser of tomatoes from both Six L’s and Pacific Growers, it would be especially helpful for Publix to work with the CIW to ensure that farm workers are never again held against their will, beaten, and deprived of their pay. You seem to be the kind of business who would want to stand against this injustice.
A number of other corporations have recently done this. Yum Brands, McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway, Bon Appetit, and Whole Foods are all working with the CIW to directly improve the wages and conditions in their tomato supply chains. Many of us are extremely disappointed to see that Publix has responded to their request by announcing that “we respectfully decline the opportunity to participate in this program.”
Please reconsider. You can help ensure fair wages and dignity for the farm workers who pick Publix tomatoes by working with the CIW to:
- · Pay an additional penny per pound for tomatoes purchased to directly increase the wages of tomato pickers.
- · Implement an enforceable code of conduct to ensure safe and fair working conditions for farm workers, including zero tolerance for modern-day slavery.
- · Ensure a voice for farm workers in monitoring improvements and reporting abuses.
As a Publix customer, I look forward to Publix living up to its reputation as a good neighbor by partnering with the CIW to end the human rights crisis in our backyard.