In wake of Fast, Florida clergy take Publix to task…

Op/Eds in Florida papers challenge Publix to take a stand for farm labor rights!

Florida clergy are taking to the newspapers in the state’s largest cities to denounce Publix’s cold indifference to workers’ and consumers’ calls to support the CIW’s Fair Food Program, or what one writer calls “the rot at the center of what would otherwise be a stellar company.”

Just days after workers broke their six-day fast outside Publix headquarters in Lakeland, op/eds written by Florida clergy have appeared in the Jacksonville Florida Times Union and the Orlando Sentinel calling on Publix to stop fighting the Fair Food Program and to start talking to the CIW about how Florida’s richest corporation can help improve the lives of Florida’s poorest workers, whose historically undervalued labor has helped fuel Publix’s growth for decades.

From the Orlando Sentinel (“Publix should join others and pay extra penny for tomatoes,” by the Rev. Kent J. Siladi, Conference Minister of the Florida Conference of the United Church of Christ, 3/13/12):

“For three years, Publix has ignored the pleas of Florida’s customers and farmworkers to pay a small premium in the price of tomatoes that would lift pickers’ pay one penny per pound…… But this issue is bigger than the penny-per-pound. It’s also about supporting, and not undermining, the best hope for more ethical standards in the fields, as we now stand on the edge on a new day for Florida’s tomato industry.

This season, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers is implementing a landmark agreement with the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange, impacting 90 percent of the state’s tomato farms and roughly 30,000 farmworkers. The breakthrough collaboration ensures tomato harvesters access to water and shade, a clock-in system to guarantee minimum-wage payment, a complaint resolution system, and zero-tolerance provisions for sexual harassment and forced labor.

The New York Times has hailed it as “possibly the most successful labor action in the U.S. in 20 years.” Yet Publix refuses to join competitors Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, as well as the leaders of the fast-food and food-service industries, in conditioning their purchases on tomato suppliers’ compliance with this critically important code of conduct to protect workers’ human dignity and basic rights.”  read more >>

And from Jacksonville’s Florida Times Union (“Viewpoint: Publix should engage on farmworkers,” by the Rev. Dr. Parrish W. Jones, St. Johns Presbyterian Church, 3/13/12):

“… When customers who support the Coalition of Immokalee Workers seek to speak with Publix officials about the issue, they turn a deaf ear.One such time occurred at the new opening of the Vilano Beach store when I tried to offer a letter directly to the manager, groceries in my hands.

She refused the letter and immediately sought out her security guard as if I were attacking her, which I wasn’t. The corporate response to customers on this issue is a deaf ear.

However, Publix has a moral imperative to help those who work in their supply chain because it’s the moral thing to do and doing so could make a big difference for thousands of pickers. Florida tomato farmers, over 90 percent of whom have already agreed to support the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ Fair Food Program, cannot increase their workers’ wages unless Publix, which is one of the largest sellers of agricultural products in the state and nation, joins the program and pays the extra penny more per pound. The penny-a-pound initiative has proven to make a huge difference. It adds approximately 32 cents to every basket of tomatoes picked and lifts a worker from below minimum wage to above that wage. It saves children from hunger. It improves the lives of those who are essential to our lives because only humans can pick tomatoes. Nearly every major denomination of Christianity supports the coalition’s efforts, as do the Jewish and Islamic communities and many other faith traditions. Yet Crenshaw as Publix CEO, who worships in a Christian church, refuses the simplest of Jesus’s teachings, “Whatever you do to the least of these you do to me.” (Matthew 25)  read more >>

For a bit of media from last week’s Fast that we missed in our first update, check out the two stories, a great radio report from Tampa’s WMNF and a Boston TV story that covered the Kennedy family’s participation in the day’s events:

Last week’s Fast was an experience unlike any other in the nearly 20-year history of the CIW. The power of communion — which seems like the most appropriate term for the nature of the effect — unleashed by the fast was unprecedented. And that union, both among the fasters and between the fasters and tens of thousands of allies around the country, was, and remains, a force that will continue to change things for the better for some time to come. Check back soon for more from that unforgettable week and from the aftermath of the Fast for Fair Food.

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