Fair Food advocates oppose Publix at USF Tampa

CIW farmworkers vs Publix
Farmworkers and allies march asking Publix to sign on to Fair Food Program. By Christopher Davis / WMNF News (March 2013).

This Friday the University of South Florida Board of Trustees will take a vote on leasing land to Publix for a supermarket on the Tampa campus. But activists for the fair treatment of farmworkers are organizing against it because Publix has refused to join the Coalition of Immokalee Workers Fair Food Program which guarantees certain working conditions and raises the wages the farmworkers are paid for harvesting tomatoes.

Listen to the WMNF News interview with Susan Sampson from Tampa Bay Fair Food:

Here are links to more WMNF News stories on the Fair Food Program: http://www.wmnf.org/tag/ciw/

Watch the interview here:

Neither Publix nor USF would agree to a recorded interview, but they both emailed statements.

USF spokesperson Lara Wade wrote:

“Unfortunately no one is available to speak with you today. The project has not gone through the process to gain all necessary approvals – so there is no additional information to share at this time.

“Several more steps need to be taken (including public meetings where information is provided, questions are asked and various issues are discussed) before the on-campus grocery store agreement has been finalized.”

Brian West from Publix sent a lengthy statement:

Put It in the Price: Publix’s Position on the CIW Campaign

Farm work is hard work. There is no denying that. We appreciate the work achieved in order to get product off the land and on our customers’ tables. We value the relationships along the path from “farm to fork” and realize it takes a lot of people, each providing a great service. Publix remains the focus of a campaign by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) who seeks to pressure us to become involved in the employment relationship between Florida farmers who grow tomatoes and the farmworkers they employ to harvest their product. Since first approached by the CIW in 2009, we have consistently viewed this issue as a labor dispute, and our position remains the same today.

What is 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.

The Publix Mission

Our Mission at Publix is to be the premier quality food retailer in the world. Toward this mission, we aim to exceed our customers’ expectations, provide a superior shopping experience and ensure our customers receive a superior value for their purchase. Most of our stores offer an array of more than 40,000 products. Each product comes from a supplier, and with so many suppliers, we could literally be drawn into a potential dispute between an employer and their employee(s) at any time. This is not our place. 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. 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 166,000 associates.

Affecting change

Being in business for nearly 85 years, we have supported our local communities by growing the economy, providing good jobs and supporting a wide variety of charitable organizations and their activities. We have earned the respect of our peers and have been consistently recognized because of our values, mission and contributions. Publix also is widely recognized for creating a unique workplace culture based on respecting the dignity, value and employment security of our associates. We strongly believe it is the responsibility of every employer to treat their workforce like we do, and we hope we can serve as a role model for our suppliers who aspire to do so.

We also have worked with the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), a food industry organization, to affect change for farm workers. FMI has taken these concerns to the Department of Labor, whose responsibility it is to monitor and enforce the governing laws on farms, which include wages and working conditions.

Why not “just pay the penny?”

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 product 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 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 — and our customers would pay — as part of making our purchases.

This is what we mean when we say, “Put it in the Price.”


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