PHOTOS: Farmworkers target Publix in protest over wages and working conditions

Coalition of Immokalee Workers supporters and staff protest near the Publix at the intersection of Immokalee Road and Collier Boulevard on Thursday, March 31, 2011, in Naples. On the birthday of legendary farmworker leader Cesar Chavez, the protestors sought to bring attention to their organization's ongoing demands for Publix to commit to a code of conduct to protect the rights of farmworkers. David Albers/Staff

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Coalition of Immokalee Workers supporters and staff protest near the Publix at the intersection of Immokalee Road and Collier Boulevard on Thursday, March 31, 2011, in Naples. On the birthday of legendary farmworker leader Cesar Chavez, the protestors sought to bring attention to their organization's ongoing demands for Publix to commit to a code of conduct to protect the rights of farmworkers. David Albers/Staff

— Immokalee farmworkers and their allies carried signs and chanted Thursday outside a Publix in Collier County to call for the supermarket giant to pay more for tomatoes.

About 85 farmworkers with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, members of World Communion of Reformed Churches and other supporters gathered on the birthday of legendary farmworker leader Cesar Chavez at the Shoppes at Pebblebrook at the corner of Collier Boulevard and Immokalee Road in Golden Gate Estates.

“What we want is for Publix to be responsible for the farmworkers who pick their tomatoes,” Nelly Rodriguez, a coalition member and Immokalee farmworker, said in Spanish.

Supporters waved signs that read “Publix Profits from Farmworkers Poverty,” “Stop Exploiting” and “Justice for Tomato Pickers” during an hour-long protest. Several car horns honked in their support.

For more than two years, the coalition has demanded that Publix improve working conditions for tomato pickers by adopting a code of conduct that includes a zero tolerance on slavery and by talking directly with the coalition about farmworker issues.

The coalition is seeking a commitment to pay workers a penny more per pound of tomatoes picked. Workers are paid about 50 cents a bucket for each 32-pound bucket of tomatoes, according to the coalition.

Shannon Patten, a Publix spokeswoman based in Lakeland, Fla., said the extra penny per pound should be put in the price.

“We are more than willing to pay a penny more per pound, or whatever the market price for tomatoes will be,” Patten said in an email.

“We suggest that they put the cost of the tomatoes in the price they charge the industry.”

But Jordan Buckley, staff member of Interfaith Action of Southwest Florida, said that’s how the program, which is currently used with other companies, works.

Instead, the repacker would charge the extra penny to Publix, and the extra penny then would be distributed to the growers and then to the farmworkers, Buckley said.

Gerardo Reyes, a CIW staff member and Immokalee farmworker, echoed Buckley.

Reyes said Publix would understand if its representatives sat at the table with the coalition.

“Publix will not pay employees of other companies directly for their labor. That is the responsibility of their employers,” Patten said in an email.

“Employers should pay wages, not those outside of the employment relationship.”

As Publix has stated before, Patten said, this is a longstanding labor dispute and Publix doesn’t get involve in labor disputes between suppliers and their employees.

“We do not have a conflict with the CIW,” she said.

“The CIW is seeking to negotiate wages and working conditions of employment with the growers, and the CIW is trying to drag Publix into these negotiations.”

Publix, which buys from coalition-approved growers, is unaware of any single incident of slavery or violations of human rights existing in its food supply chain, Patten stressed.

While Publix is the coalition’s current target, other companies have been approached before. The coalition has 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.

Vanderbilt Presbyterian Church pastor Tom Harp said he doesn’t understand Publix’s resistance to the coalition’s requests.

“I hope they sign up quickly,” he said.

Among Publix shoppers who support the coalition’s demands was Annie Alvarez.

“They deserve the penny,” Alvarez said.

“It’s ridiculous. People really need to go see what they do.”

Alvarez added that she thinks the economy can support that.

Connect with Tracy X. Miguel at www.naplesnews.com/staff/tracy_x_miguel/.

© 2011 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Comments » 4

u2cane writes:

I don't understand why these workers don't go to their employer, why would anyone pay them directly that isn't their employer? Sounds like the mob asking for protection money if you ask me. This protest is ridiculous, these people need to get a clue about how the world works. I don't understand how legally they can even ask for this money from these companies.

deltarome writes:

growers are hold up to raising wages. If they pay more for tomatoes, then workers will demand more money on all other crops too.
Growers in fla have to compete with imports from mexico and south america. It isn't as simple as raising the price by a penny.

RayPray writes:

"these people need to get a clue about how the world works."

>>> They got that!. Publix is the big enchilada around here.

"I don't understand why these workers don't go to their employer...."

>>> Because who would notice or cover the story?

"Sounds like the mob asking for protection money"

>>> Right out of the Saul Alinsky, Crooked Rev Jackson shakedown playbook....

u2cane writes:

Klab, this action is getting them nowhere, how you like them apples (or should I say tomatoes)?
What they want can be likened to you paying someone to teach at the Academy out of your own pocket, even after the academy is paying them, but not paying them well enough. True democracy would be the tomato pickers walking out if they don't believe that they are getting paid enough. Instead you are going to have this coalition (sounds like a mob run union to me) that is going to get the money and distribute it. How do you know they are going to distribute it equally? How much are they taking off the top for "administrative" costs? Yes, that sounds like democracy in action to me, or more like Democrats in action to me.

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