It says here on Page 3A of the Aug. 20 Daily News that the Coalition of Immokalee Workers is asking Publix to pay a penny more per pound for tomatoes so that farmworkers can make a better wage — 82 cents per bucket picked rather than 50 cents per bucket picked.
Actually, the story is that the coalition is continuing to bug one of Florida’s most distinguished corporate citizens and good neighbors by foolishly demonstrating in front of stores, on private property, to turn one of America’s fundamental economic principles upside down.
Further, the coalition — funded by parties such as the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, whose namesake company makes money selling a lot of corn flakes at Publix — glosses over the real key to breaking any cycle of poverty.
That would be literacy.
Reading and writing English.
It’s easier and more convenient for the coalition to rail at Publix — or Taco Bell, Burger King, McDonald’s, Subway and others before them which buckled under the glare. They did so despite Publix’s basic point that they are retailers, not wholesalers, and the pickers work for someone else.
The much harder work — heavier lifting, actually — is in education.
Teach someone to read and write English and you’ve really accomplished something for generations to come.
And please, one more thing. Would the coalition please tell these migrant workers how unbelievably lucky they are to be here, period?
It takes gall to parade around in front of a taxpaying employer — one that puts a premium on uplifting its own employees who start from humble beginnings.
Publix employs 6,200 people — some in entry-level positions — in Collier and Lee counties.
Publix is a major, gracious donor to the community in general and Immokalee in particular, having just handed checks for $12,000 to Guadalupe Center and the Immokalee Child Care Center. Its employees last year gave $1 million to charities affiliated with the Collier and Lee United Way — and the company matched it almost dollar for dollar. Publix daily fills trucks with donated food for local food banks and charities. Further, Publix last year donated $30,000 to meals-on-wheels programs and $60,000 to food banks — all in our backyard.
Coalition members could benefit from that.
Publix reimburses fees for employees to better themselves — and the company. Publix reimburses for literacy training and other courses that will help workers on the job. That policy rises to the level of vocational-technical schools and even college for courses as varied as floral arranging, mechanics and pharmacy science. As a Publix spokeswoman puts it, “We have a lot of jobs that can turn into careers.”
That is what Publix does because it wants to.
That is what the Coalition of Immokalee Workers tries to demonize.
You may be thinking that this column is somewhat ironic. After all, it is the Daily News that helps feed the coalition’s bravado by dutifully running to each and every anti-Publix protest. You would be right.
The latest little demonstration — the straw that broke the camel’s back for me — included coalition people with big plastic buckets full of produce at a Naples store. Passers-by were asked to give it a try. We quoted one customer, age 76, as saying, “I would not last very long.”
Well, she probably never will be asked to do that, and — just a hunch here — she never was asked to try to hoist buckets of tomatoes.
Because she could read and write and speak English. I could be wrong.
I invited the coalition to write us an essay explaining what it does for the farm-labor community in Immokalee. The essay (on Page XX) of more than 900 words mentions education in only two sentences that I could find.
The coalition’s website’s lead item the other day was headlined “Food Pray-in at Publix!,” with a photo of supporters in a Naples Publix produce department and the caption: “Losing patience with Publix, faith leaders take action in the produce aisle, call on CEO Ed Crenshaw to be a man of compassion and fairness.”
“It was the first action of its kind,” the website said, “but it will not be the last.”
The coalition likens the event to the 1960s civil rights movement, with sit-ins at lunch counters. Stay tuned for Freedom Riders comparisons with coalition bicyclists trekking to company headquarters in Lakeland.
Yes, a lot of education is in order.
Scroll further down the website and you come to the headline “Royally screwed” on an item about a food company with a royal title in Europe rebuffing a coalition representative on a similar pay-more-for-produce mission. Not the language you expect from a movement that started with a hunger strike sanctioned by the Catholic Church in 1990 and still enjoying church support.
The Kellogg Foundation, which reports giving $320,000 to the foundation for the penny-per-pound drive, says it is separate from the cerealmaker and is in fact a champion of education — as well as good nutrition — for poor children. The Kellogg website affirms that.
Yet, when asked what the foundation or its partners do for education in Immokalee, the foundation comes up short.
So there you have it.
Maybe I’m missing something.
But until I’m advised of what that is, I believe the Publix protesters have it all wrong.
They are championing the wrong cause.
At the wrong place.
Lytle is editorial page editor of the Daily News. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Call him at 263-4773. Check his blog at naplesnews.com/blogs/jefflytle.
Coalition’s efforts range far beyond better wages for farmworkers
By Gerardo Reyes-Chavez
Thanks for the great question about what the Coalition of Immokalee Workers does for the migrant worker community besides the campaign for Publix to pay an extra penny per pound of tomatoes.
Thank you very much for giving us the opportunity to share a little more deeply with the Naples community about the changes we are working hard to bring to farmworkers and their families throughout Florida.
I’ll begin by outlining quickly some of the things we do outside of the Fair Food Program, and then will explain further how the Fair Food Program itself goes well beyond the penny-per-pound to bring about truly unprecedented changes in the fields.
We have many community-building programs with which you may not be familiar. We run a small store that helps families save money by providing staple foods and household products at a significant discount from retail prices. We run a low-power community radio station that provides the community with news, information and cultural enrichment, including programming you won’t find anywhere else, like indigenous language programs run by community members themselves. During events like hurricanes our station provides a unique service to the farmworker community by broadcasting and communicating essential information to a frequently underserved population.
We have a women’s group that learns basic English together, empowers women as community leaders, and works to end sexual harassment, which is all too prevalent in the fields. We also house a media center where members of the community can use computers and access the internet.
We help people when their loved ones pass away here in the U.S., far from their families; we work with the local police on crimes and community education; we help people with wage complaints in or out of the fields. Our members even collected food and clothing for the victims of the earthquake in Haiti.
These are just a few examples of the work we are doing with farmworkers and their families here in Immokalee and across the state.
Furthermore, we are working night and day to eliminate modern-day slavery from today’s agricultural industry. As I am sure you are aware, the CIW is recognized as a national and international leader in the work against human trafficking. We have worked directly with the U.S. Department of Justice and local law enforcement (including the Collier County Sheriff’s Office) on seven agricultural slavery prosecutions — and we continue to be involved in a number of ongoing investigations. At the same time, we train social-services and law-enforcement personnel on the recognition of and response to trafficking cases in their own communities, and serve as a resource for organizations and agencies as they encounter and serve ex-captives. In recognition of our groundbreaking work against human trafficking, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently recognized Laura Germino, the CIW’s anti-slavery coordinator, with a Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Hero Award, the first time that award has gone to a U.S.-based organization or individual.
In addition to our efforts to free workers from modern-day slavery through investigations and trainings, we are working to eliminate slavery and to prevent it from occurring in the first place through the Campaign for Fair Food.
The Campaign for Fair Food itself goes beyond the penny-per-pound request by calling on retailers to institute a strict code of conduct for their tomato purchases that requires tomato producers to participate in the Fair Food Program, providing their workers with, among other things, access to shade, a right to report abuse without fearing retaliation, and zero tolerance for the worst abuses.
The list of real, concrete changes brought about through the Fair Food Program is long, including:
n A worker-to-worker education process — on the farm and on the clock — by which workers learn of their new rights and responsibilities under the Fair Food code.
n A participatory complaint investigation and resolution process, or grievance system, through which workers are able to identify abusive bosses and workplace conditions and eliminate them, without fear of retaliation.
n The elimination of “cupping,” or the forced overfilling of buckets, until now a standard practice in the industry that can reduce a worker’s piece rate wages by as much as 10 percent.
n The institution of worker health and safety committees designed to create a space for discussion of workers concerns ranging from pesticide poisoning to sexual harassment.
n The provision of shade to prevent heat-related illnesses and time clocks so that workers are paid for all the hours they are on the job.
These structural changes in the tomato industry have already led to quality of life improvements for famworker families in Immokalee over the last season. For example, when workers are able to report for work when work actually begins they have more time to spend with their families. One worker reported that since the implementation of the Fair Food Program on the farm where he works, for the first time ever, he was able to eat breakfast and walk with his 10-year-old son to school in the morning. This is just one example of the impacts on the lives of farmworker families that we’ve been working toward for years and that the Campaign for Fair Food has helped to create, impacts that go well beyond the penny-per-pound.
I hope this gives you a more holistic understanding of our organization.
Gerardo Reyes-Chavez has worked in the fields since age 11 in Zacatecas, Mexico. He joined the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in 2000. Since then, the CIW says, Gerardo has been an active member of the CIW leading national actions in the CIW’s Campaign for Fair Food. He also helps to run Radio Conciencia, the CIW’s radio station.