Young and old, large and small, farmers and pastors, men and women all lined the streets in front of Publix grocery stores in Florida last month. They weren't waiting in line for the next sale or big-ticket item, they were urging Publix to stand up to unfair treatment of tomato workers.
October marked the beginning of a month of protests against Publix, Florida's largest privately owned company. Its refusal to agree to the penny per pound increase introduced by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) makes Publix a major target. In recent months, such large food companies as East Coast Packers and Growers and Compass Foods have agreed to the penny per pound increase, but not Publix.
Maria Brous, a Publix spokeswoman, has said the following: "Our official position is we don't get involved in the middle of labor disputes between our suppliers and other organizations." Unfortunately this is a human rights issue, one involving slavery, unfair treatment, and abuse. A simple labor dispute? I think not.
Publix distanced itself further from any responsibility when it made the following statement: "[We pay] fair market value for our tomatoes and we don't determine that price." Does that make it okay that the "fair" market value is putting many workers below the poverty line? How can one determine if "fair" market value is truly fair?
The only way to ensure fairness is for Publix to step up to the challenge and agree to the penny more per pound increase. A company such as Publix can't afford to let its suppliers live in poverty and a community of believers such as you and I can't afford to let our companies remain unaccountable.
Join the CIW in the fight for fair labor practices. Tell Publix to uphold the dignity of all workers and pay its tomato workers a penny more per pound.
Domingo Jacinto, member of the CIW and fair food advocate, knows from experience that "The people can no longer endure the wages we earn in the fields." I couldn't have said it any better.
Megan Grove is the campaign intern for Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CCIR).