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Hundreds of farmworkers from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), joined by consumer allies from across the country, gathered March 3 at Jesus Obrero Catholic Church in Ft. Myers, Fla., to embark on a two-week, 200-mile march to Publix corporate headquarters in Lakeland, Fla. Marchers want the grocer to join the labor reform movement known as the Fair Food Program (FFP).
The FFP unites farmworkers, growers, consumers, and 11 multibillion-dollar food retailers such as Whole Foods Market and Trader Joe’s in support of fair wages and humane labor standards, including a complaint mechanism and a “penny-per-pound” bonus for tomato harvesters. However, Publix, one of the largest purchasers of Florida tomatoes, continues to buy tomatoes from Florida growers that don’t recognize the FFP.
“While the changes we are seeing in farmworkers’ lives today are indeed unprecedented,” said the CIW’s Gerardo Reyes, “there is still much to be done. With each new corporation that joins, the wage increases and labor reforms grow and deepen, which is why Publix’s decision to turn its back on the FFP is so unconscionable. Its support, which would cost Publix little or nothing, could significantly change the lives of some of the state’s hardest workers, yet the $28 billion company won’t even show farmworkers the respect of granting us a meeting to discuss the Fair Food Program face-to-face.”
“We are going to take our case directly to the consumers through our presence in the streets, through nightly meetings with supporters in churches, schools, and community halls along the way, and through our voices in the media,” added Oscar Otzoy of the CIW. “We will not rest until Publix realizes that the 21st-century supermarket cannot afford to turn its back on human rights.”
Highlights of the march include a March 9 education theater piece slated to be held by New College students in Sarasota, Fla., and the participants’ scheduled arrival at Publix HQ on March 17.
When contacted by Progressive Grocer, Maria Brous, director of media and public relations at Publix, responded:
"We appreciate the relationship between farm workers and the farm-to-fork process. We understand that farm work is hard and we are grateful for our growers and farm workers. We also understand that asking a retailer to directly or indirectly pay the wages of workers, in this case farm workers, is inappropriate. As with any industry, the company the employee works for should be held accountable for the working conditions and/or wages of the employees."
Brous added that as part of Publix's community outreach efforts, the grocer supported child care centers and a food bank in Immokale, as well as engaging the Food Marketing Institute with the U.S. Department of Labor "in order for the appropriate arm of the government to look into allegations in the [tomato] fields."