Bike tour wrap-up…Media re-caps and Florida clergy speak out!

Media re-caps and Florida clergy speak out!

Last week’s 200-mile bike tour from Immokalee to Lakeland, home of Publix’s corporate headquarters, may not have moved Publix CEO Ed Crenshaw to come out of hiding and meet the farmworkers who help make his company so successful, but it certainly caught the attention of a lot of other people throughout Florida, from the media to clergy of all stripes.

Southwest Florida’s WINK TV put together a nice post-Pilgrimage piece, which you can find by clicking on the image on the right or here.

Also, the Orlando Weekly did a quick story post-tour, entitled “Migrant farmworkers and activists pressing tomato pickers’ wages ‘turned away at the gates’ by Publix.” Here’s an excerpt:

“… Surely, small groups of activists are ignored by large corporations all the time. But yesterday’s non-meeting was noteworthy given that the group spearheading the campaign, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), has earned a name for itself by not only securing such high-level meetings, but extracting agreements from them. Over the past six years the organization, largely comprised of migrant farmworkers hailing from Mexico, Central America, and Haiti, has gotten fast-food mega-corporations like Yum! Brands and food service giants such as Aramark to accede to their penny-per-pound request. In addition, the group brokered a historic agreement with the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange (FTGE) last November which not only allowed these extra pennies to pass into workers’ paychecks, but established an oversight authority to address complaints of abuse by bosses…” read more

Gainesville’s weekly, The Fine Print, likewise did a nice story following the tour, entitled simply “CIW: Pilgrimage to Publix”. Here’s some of what you will find there:

“… Oscar Otzoy, an Immokalee farm worker and one of the six bikers, said the coalition only brought a verbal invitation for Crenshaw to witness the harsh conditions of the Immokalee fields.

‘He has not accepted our invitation,’ Otzoy said. ‘I feel rejected as a human.’

Major tomato retailers and food corporations—including McDonald’s, Whole Foods and Aramark—have reached agreements with the CIW in the past.

‘We thought Crenshaw was going to do the right thing,’ Otzoy said. ‘But he didn’t even show his face’…

Brianna Ramos, a UF freshman, said she was shocked to see Crenshaw ignore the farm workers.

‘It is unfair,’ she said.

Victor Yengle, a UF economics junior, said the ‘pilgrimage to publix’ wasn’t entirely a defeat for the CIW and its supporters.

‘It’s great to see all of these community leaders united,’ he said.” read more

And speaking of community leaders uniting, Florida’s clergy have also been watching the Publix campaign closely for some time now, and the company’s refusal to join in constructive dialogue with the CIW is clearly starting to wear thin with many of them. At the culmination of last week’s Pilgrimage, the Reverend Eve MacMaster from Emmanuel Mennonite Church in Gainesville read a letter, signed by now 31 clergy from the Gainesville area, to Publix. Entitled “An Open Letter from Gainesville Clergy to Publix Supermarkets,” it reads, in part:

“As the Rev Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. teaches us, ‘In a real sense, all life is interrelated. The agony of the poor impoverishes the rich; the betterment of the poor enriches the rich. We are inevitably our brother’s keeper because we are our brother’s brother. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.’ Farmworkers, supermarkets and consumers, we are all bound together.

We, the undersigned Gainesville faith leaders, urge Publix Super Markets, Inc, to affirm this reality and work with the CIW to do what is needed to bring the bounty of justice to all of our tables.” read more

Now, clergy from across the state have added their voices to the growing chorus of criticism of Publix and its indefensible indifference to the plight of Florida’s farmworkers. Here are links to several op/eds and public statements by Florida clergy to urge Publix to follow the path toward a more modern, more humane Florida agricultural industry that the CIW and the Campaign for Fair Food have begun to carve out:

Publix’s tone deaf defense — its business-as-usual response to this unprecedented opportunity, and moral imperative, to reform farm labor conditions in Florida — is fueling an exponential growth of support for the Campaign for Fair Food in houses of worship, schools, and communities across the state. This season is certainly shaping up to be one to watch in the Publix campaign…