Day Two Update
Protest at Trader Joe's
72nd and Broadway, NYC
Feb. 28, 2011

Following Sunday's energetic and well-attended march through downtown Boston, the Do the Right Thing tour crew began to make its way back down Interstate 95 towards New York City. After three days on the road and many miles traveled, CIW members and their families, pictured above, looked forward to sharing their message of hope for a Fair Food future with another popular -- and fast growing -- supermarket chain: Trader Joe's.

But, despite the delegation's amicable intentions, the CIW members and allies were turned away and shown the door without so much as a how do you do.

How did it go so wrong?

The CIW crew was invited to the Upper West Side picket by a great bunch of New Yorkers, the Community/Farmworker Alliance (about 150 of whom joined us in Boston the day before in a caravan of buses!)...

... and the action certainly was as orderly as could be expected.

Our interactions with other New Yorkers on the street passing by the protest were nothing short of courteous...

... while our signs were kind and clear.

Well, not all our signs were quite so kind...

... clear, yes, but kind, not so much, at least not from the perspective of those inside Trader Joe's, perhaps. But then again, poverty, humiliation, and abuse aren't terribly kind, either, and all we were saying is that we'd like to work together with Trader Joe's to end exploitation in Florida's tomato fields.

Well, at least the people of New York liked us. Their media certainly turned out, helping amplify our voice in the country's biggest city:

"Protest at Trader Joe's to demand fair farm labor standards," The Progressive Grocer, 2/25/11

"Protesters demand Trader Joe's pay tomato pickers extra money," Gothamist, 2/28/11

"Farmworkers demand better pay from Trader Joe's," DNAInfo, 2/28/11

Even New York City's notoriously ill-mannered drivers did their part to help us throughout the action, offering support with a near constant chorus of honking horns.

The Immokalee crew was so inspired by the scene that they were moved to share not just where New York's tomatoes come from but how they get from Florida's fields to supermarkets like Trader Joe's. Above, a worker demonstrates throwing a full 32-lb. bucket of tomatoes up to a truck that hauls them from the field to a packinghouse, where they are cleaned, sorted, and shipped to restaurants and stores across the country.

The buckets also came in handy when it was time to slow down the picket and take a moment for speeches. Here Lucas addresses the crowd shortly before organizing the delegation for the trip inside with the manager's letter.

But even as the picket wound down, it never lost any of its color or verve...

... though, once again, when seen from inside the store, the action outside may have seemed less festive.

And so it was that our delegation was met with a brusque and unambiguous rejection by the Trader Joe's team.The striking similarity between the company's response to this particular delegation and its overall stance towards partnership with the CIW in the Campaign for Fair Food was not lost on farmworkers from Immokalee nor their allies.

To date, Trader Joe's has taken the position that it can sell and market its tomatoes as ethically sourced without actually doing its part – including paying the Fair Food premium and adopting the Fair Food code of conduct – or working together with the CIW to insure that those changes are verifiable and transparent.

But that position simply will not hold, no matter how dearly they wish it would, because their customers will not accept it. Ultimately, if they are to sell their tomatoes as ethical, they must meet the highest possible standards in the industry, and in the case of Florida tomatoes, that means working with the CIW and the Fair Food program.

But of course, the CIW crew was not without a response to Trader Joe's rebuff. If we couldn't deliver a manager's letter inside the store, we could always unfurl a 6-foot tall copy of the manager's letter outside the store so that all its customers could read its message and judge for themselves.

Which is exactly what we did.

And before leaving for Baltimore, the next stop on our tour, we huddled with our friends from the New York-based Community/Farmworker Alliance to plan our next steps in the Trader Joe's campaign.

Next stop: Baltimore and Landover, MD, corporate home of Giant, Ahold's other major US supermarket brand!