Coalition of Immokalee Workers protest at new Publix store
NORTH FT. MYERS, Fla. - Despite Sunday's rain, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers held a protest outside a new Publix store in North Ft. Myers.
Four In Your Corner's Colleen Hogan is finding out what they want from the grocery chain.
The Coalition of Immokalee Workers delivered a petition to the store, that asks Publix to participate in their 'Fair Food' program, which asks that Publix pay workers a penny more per pound for tomatoes and agree to more protections for workers in the field.
"We're here today to turn in a petition that we've put together from farm worker mothers in Immokalee who pick the tomatoes that actually are sold in Publix stores," Nely Rodriguez said, with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. "We're asking Publix to again, come onto the 'Fair Food' program and take their responsibility for improving conditions in Florida's tomato fields."
Coalition members say hundreds of people signed the petition, including farm worker mothers and consumer mothers asking the grocery store to support workers. The coalition says there have been cases of sexual, verbal and physical abuse in the fields and this agreement would better protect women workers.
"I know I'm not the only clergy person who's disappointed that Publix will not come to the table and join this incredible partnership and the campaign for fair food with the coalition," Rev. Allison Farnum said.
We reached out to Publix. Spokesperson Shannon Patten sent this emailed statement:
"Publix understands the importance of the farms and farm workers and their contributions to the supply chain. We also believe farm work is hard, and we value the relationships we have established with our suppliers. Publix is currently the focus of a campaign by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) who seek to pressure us to become involved in the employment relationship between Florida farmers who grow tomatoes and the farm workers whom they employ to harvest their produce. Since first approached by the CIW three years ago, we have consistently viewed this issue as a labor dispute. (A labor dispute is defined as a controversy between an employer and its employees concerning the terms or conditions of employment. This includes but isn’t limited to wages (including bonuses), benefits, breaks and other working conditions).
Most of our stores offer an array of more than 40,000 products. With that many suppliers, we could literally be drawn into a potential dispute between another employer and their employees at any time. This is just not feasible for us. Instead, we seek to do business with suppliers who can provide quality products to our customers and operate their businesses in order to provide an enviable workplace for their employees. In the past, we have eliminated suppliers who did not do this, and we would do so again when appropriate. We expect our suppliers to follow the laws established to protect and promote a safe and healthful workplace for their employees just as we expect our managers to be passionately focused on making Publix a great place to work for our 151,000 associates. We strongly believe it is the responsibility of every employer to treat their workforce the same way, and we hope we can serve as a role model for our suppliers who aspire to do so.
We don’t believe just paying the penny is the right thing to do — for Publix or our suppliers. Simply stated, Publix is more than willing to pay a penny more per pound or whatever the market price for tomatoes will be in order to provide the goods to our customers. However, we will not pay employees of other companies directly for their labor. That is the responsibility of their employer, and we believe all parties would be better served in the long term if appropriate wages were paid by growers to their workers, and we were charged accordingly.
It all goes back to our original message about this being a labor dispute. We believe it is the responsibility of all our suppliers — including Florida farmers who grow tomatoes and other produce — to manage their own workforce, including paying wages and providing work conditions that comply with federal and state laws. If farmers need to increase the price of their goods to get this done, then that is a necessary business cost we would pay as part of making our purchases. This is what we mean when we say, “Put it in the Price.”
Colleen Hogan, reporter