Farm Workers Protest New Publix
Several dozen gathered in front of the ...
Marketplace at Pelican Bay
NAPLES — The Coalition of Immokalee Workers wants Publix to use the same “Fair Trade” advertising campaign used for GreenWise coffee for the tomatoes picked by Immokalee farmworkers.
More than 60 members of the Coalition, with fellow allies, gathered outside the new hybrid Publix supermarket at the Marketplace at Pelican Bay along U.S. 41 near Vanderbilt Beach Road in North Naples on Thursday morning.
“Publix escucha, estamamos en la lucha.”
It means: “Listen Publix, we are in the fight.”
Supporters waved signs that read “pobreza,” which means poverty, “Fair trade is only fair” and “Our sweat is not free” during an hour-long protest. Several car horns honked in their support.
For more than two years, they have been demanding that Publix improve working conditions for tomato pickers by adopting a code of conduct that would include a zero tolerance on slavery and for the grocery chain to engage in a conversation directly with the coalition.
The workers also are asking for a penny more per pound of tomatoes picked. Workers are paid about 50 cents a bucket for 32-pound buckets of tomatoes, according to the Coalition.
“We are asking them to work with us and basically start doing the right thing,” said Gerardo Reyes, 33, an Immokalee farmworker and coalition member. “They are pushing the idea of fair trade and GreenWise. It’s only logical if they do the same thing when it comes to farmworkers.”
Coalition members made note of Publix’s fair trade coffee label which says: “Fair trade prices help small farmers provide employees with livable wages and work conditions. Which fosters the same values we do: community, well-being, and a nicer world.”
Shannon Patten, a Publix spokeswoman, said: “This is a labor dispute and we have a practice of not intervening in labor disputes.”
“With more than 35,000 different products in an average store, there are countless opportunities for disputes to take place between supplier and employees. And we don’t get involved.”
Publix encourages the supplier and employer to come to a resolution, she said.
Patten said Publix pays the market price for tomatoes and doesn’t set or negotiate prices for tomatoes which are set by the grower or packer.
But Jordan Buckley, staff member of Interfaith Action of Southwest Florida, said there is no labor dispute.
On Thursday, Immokalee-based Six L’s joined the Coalition’s Fair Food program.
Florida’s largest tomato grower has agreed to pass on the penny per pound and to adopt the code of conduct, including a cooperative complaint resolution system, a participatory health and safety program, and a worker-to-worker education process, according to the Coalition.
“This makes it even easier for Publix to increase workers’ wages and protect human rights,” Buckley said.
The coalition has successfully reached agreements to improve wages and working conditions for workers who pick tomatoes for Whole Foods, Subway, McDonald’s, Burger King, Yum! Brands and Aramark.
Local church leaders of local churches from different faiths delivered a signed letter urging Publix to pay the extra cent for a pound of tomatoes to Publix staff Thursday following the ribbon cutting ceremony.
Among Immokalee supporters was Silvia Perez, 36, who has been a farmworker for 17 years.
“We want Publix to be responsible and talk to the workers,” Perez, who wore a green “Poverty” T-shirt, said in Spanish.
Publix shopper Joan Dunn saw the protest when she drove into the plaza Thursday morning.
Dunn said Publix should pay a penny more per pound.
“It’s very hard to feed a family with farmworkers’ wages,” Dunn, 75, of North Naples said. “They should get a decent wage like everyone else.”
Connect with Tracy X. Miguel at www.naplesnews.com/staff/tracy_x_miguel/