Farmworkers to picket the opening of Trader Joe's

Video from NBC-2

A farmworkers' advocacy group has added a new company to its picketing list. About a dozen farmworkers will be pedaling from Immokalee to Florida's first-ever Trader Joe's.

Coalition of Immokalee Workers' fieldworkers, who spend the tomato season picking crops in Immokalee, tuned up their bicycles on Monday afternoon. The group is gearing up for a 35-mile ride to raise awareness of the farmworkers' wages and encourage a Fair Food code of conduct.

"It's very important for Trader Joe's to join the agreement," farmworker Wilson Perez said in Spanish.

"It would be an increase in our wages and our rights would be more protected."

Perez, 21, who has been a field worker for five years, along with other farmworkers plans to leave the coalition's office at 3:30 a.m. on Friday to arrive at the grocer at 8 a.m. for the store's grand opening. At the intersection of U.S. 41 and Creekside Boulevard in the Granada Shoppes, the group will be joined by local supporters, including clergy.

Once in North Naples, the cycling team wants to speak with Trader Joe's vice president Kent Smathers to discuss the importance of signing an agreement to increase farmworkers' pay a penny more per pound of tomatoes picked, as well as only buying from farms that comply with the coalition's Fair Food code of conduct, which is taking effect this season for 90 percent of Florida's tomato fields to better conditions for workers.

Trader Joe's officials could not be reached for comment Monday morning.

Workers are paid about 50 cents a bucket for 32-pound buckets of tomatoes, according to the Coalition.

In addition, the group will present Trader Joe's officials a bloodstained shirt of a beaten farmworker.

They want the grocer, headquartered in Monrovia, Calif., to join a growing partnership among workers, Florida tomato growers and retail food giants aimed at ending decades of farm labor abuse in the state.

While Trader Joe's and Publix supermarket 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.

If Trader Joe's doesn't agree to sign a fair food agreement, the coalition along with supporters will return to the grocer for a protest at 2 p.m. on Sunday. If Trader Joe's does sign an agreement, the coalition plans to protest at the hybrid Publix supermarket at the Marketplace at Pelican Bay along U.S. 41 near Vanderbilt Beach Road in North Naples.

In addition, there will be 36 separate solidarity protests taking place at Trader Joe's stores across the country, time to coincide with the opening of the new store, said Jordan Buckley, staff member of Interfaith Action of Southwest Florida.

"We need Trader Joe's involvement," he said.

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

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