Coalition of Immokalee Works Protests Publix

10/20/09 Virginia Hoffman
WMNF Drive-Time News Tuesday | Listen to this entire show:

More than 100 demonstrators gathered with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers Sunday on the sidewalk at a Publix on the corner of 10th Street and US. 41 in Sarasota.

Farm worker Gerardo Reyes Chaves said currently he receives $.45 Per pound and that to make minimum wage he must pick 2 ½ tons of tomatoes per day. They are asking for one more penny per pound, which would mean an additional $.32 per bushel.

Chaves: "This is against Publix because Publix is refusing to sit at the table with Coalition of Immokalee Workers to sign a agreement to insure there are better conditions in the fields and an increase of a penny more a pound."

Hoffman: "Do you have to bring your own water to drink when you are working."

Chaves: "The contractors are supposed to do that, in some cases they do not bring you water a lot because they don't want you to stop to use the bathroom."

Along with the 45 farm workers who came over from Immokalee there were supporters from other groups. Jane and Dennis Blanchard from the National Organization of Women Explained why their group supported this demonstration.

Hoffman: "I was just speaking with an official from a corporate headquarters from Publix and I asked this individual why Publix was not willing to meet with the farm workers and her answer was this was a labor dispute and Publix will not get involved in a labor dispute, what do you have to say about that?"

Blanchard: "From my research it is more than just a labor dispute. They want to be able to get Publix to be the first grocery store in the state of Florida to get behind them in supporting this penny a pound issue. There are other people who have done it, Burger King, and Taco Bell and others who have come on board. It is an opportunity for Publix to become the premier organization, the first organization to do that. We encourage Publix to go ahead and get on board with this penny a pound; it is not going to hurt them. I am willing, to as a person who shops at Publix,to pay that extra penny a pound."

WMNF asked CIW activist Jordon Buckley why he was focusing on Publix instead of other grocery chains, and to explain the claims of slavery of Farm workers.

Buckley: "Well Publix has the influence; they are based here in Florida. They are well connected with the agriculture industry and they have responsibility like everyone else. We have also sent letters to other companies you have mentioned, but in terms of shear influence in Florida agriculture to help truly transform the conditions there in the fields, Publix has that responsibility."

Hoffman: "Has Publix, the only grocery store chain that has refused to meet with you, have the other grocery store chains refused to meet with you?"

Buckley: "Publix has been the principle focus and the rest have not responded to our letters yet either. However Whole Foods has and Whole Foods has signed an agreement. So whereas there is slavery, the most recent slavery case that happened in Immokolee the victims picked tomatoes from farms owned by Six Thousand Pacific both of those are tomatoes Publix suppliers. Sometimes frustrating, some people will say that is an accusation. We are not accusing them, these are convicted court cases, that is why people are out here in the streets."

As protesters gathered several Publix officials stood vigil in the parking lot. They would declined to comment. Maria Brous, Director of Media with Publix said the grocery chain views this as a labor dispute and therefore will not meet with CIW.

Buckley: "Publix is trying to change the subject; this is not a labor dispute, with east coast growers with Lady Moon with Alderan Farms all agreed to pass on the penny a pound. What it is up to Publix to pay the pennies. Publix is trying to get out of being responsible. If this is a dispute we challenge Publix to tell us which farm we are having a dispute with."

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