October 27, 2011
"I have never seen such an act of disrespect"...
Pastor reacts to ripping down of clergy letters by Trader Joe's rep in scathing Op/Ed*...
Story picked up by The Atlantic, as well: "Trader Joe's Locks the Doors to Rabbis and Ministers"
*now with postscript...
Toward the end of the huge march and rally at Trader Joe's headquarters in Monrovia last Friday, a strange thing happened. Though many of the protesters saw it at the time, no one happened to capture the moment on film or video, and so we decided not to include it or mention it in our photo report from the action.
But since that time, the incident -- during which someone from Trader Joe's corporate headquarters tore down two large clergy letters taped to their doors while protesters, gathered across the street, looked on in disbelief (on right, the letters are shown taped to the doors moments before being torn down) -- has sparked a growing controversy.
Here below, the incident is described in an article from the day of the march in the OC Weekly ("Hundreds March To Trader Joe's Headquarters In Monrovia To Demand A One Penny Per Pound Raise For Florida Farm Workers," 10/21/11):
"At the headquarters, a small group of religious leaders and farm workers walked to the front door, knocked on it and waited. A security guard standing outside wouldn't answer any questions, but added that nobody would come out to talk to them or to take the letters they wanted to drop off. A few minutes later, the police showed up, but first the group attached two eight-foot long pieces of paper with the names of different religious leaders who support the program to the front door. As the cops escorted the protesters from the building, someone came from inside and ripped down the letters." (emphasis added) read more
The incident clearly didn't sit well with those who witnessed it. One of those witnesses, the Rev. Dr. Sarah Halverson of the Fairview Community Church in Costa Mesa, CA, was so moved by it that she wrote a powerful denunciation of Trader Joe's action in an Op/Ed published on Wednesday of this week in the local news blog, MonroviaPatch.com ("Op/Ed: Pastor Stands with Protesters Against Trader Joe's," 10/25/11). Here's an excerpt:
"... We arrived, engaged in prayer, and a small delegation of clergy went to the office in hopes of speaking to the CEO. Not only did we not speak to the CEO, we did not speak to the CFO. Nor did we speak to a single soul who worked for Trader Joe’s; not a public relations representative, not a secretary--no one but a security guard stationed outside the locked doors of the facility. I knocked on the door, waved at the people inside trying to signal them so we could speak. They actually hid from us.
Trader Joe’s did not have the courtesy to send one person out of the office to speak to the non-violent, peaceful pastors and rabbis who also happen to be customers, who gathered to share a word. Instead, they called the police and had us escorted off their property. We left our letters signed by dozens of Southern California Interfaith leaders beseeching Trader Joe’s to live up to its progressive reputation and pay the Immokalee workers an extra penny a pound. Seconds after we left, however, the doors opened and our letters were ceremoniously ripped up before our very eyes.
I have never seen such an act of disrespect! As a pastor who cares about safe working standards and fair wages, I am disappointed in any corporation who does not value human dignity over low prices. As a Trader Joe’s customer, I am ashamed. I had expected better...." read more
Unfortunately, we wish we could say the same, but we can't. We started out like everyone else, thinking Trader Joe's was, in fact, the company it says it is -- fun, caring, and sincerely concerned about its customers and the world in which it does business. But we no longer believe that.
We have come instead to believe that Trader Joe's has no more respect -- and arguably has significantly less respect -- for the farmworkers who pick the produce it sells than any other company in the food industry, regardless of reputation. The disdain, bordering on petulance, with which the company has responded to the simple concept of sitting at the same table with farmworkers to discuss the Fair Food Program has been every bit as harsh as it is disappointing. It has been an eye-opening experience, but we are over, now, being surprised at Trader Joe's disrespect for farmworkers.
The problem for Trader Joe's, however, is that more and more of its customers are reaching the same conclusion.
And as more and more of its customers -- including nearly two hundred rabbis and pastors who signed the clergy letters that were ripped from the doors this past Friday -- show their support for farmworkers, they too are being treated with the same disdain, and are feeling the same disrespect, that farmworkers have come to expect.
As the Rev. Halverson told The Atlantic:
"They crossed a line," she said. "I was under the impression that Trader Joe's is a socially conscious store. Most members of my congregation are progressive, and that's why they shop there. But I lost complete respect for them. They showed their true colors." read more
And that, ultimately, is a situation that cannot hold. Sooner or later, Trader Joe's will realize that, while it might get away with treating farmworkers with contempt, it will never get away with treating its own customers that way.
Postscript: Last night, Rev. Halverson posted this note on her facebook page, after a representative from Trader Joe's reached out to her about her op/ed:
Seems that Trader Joe's may have realized just how offensive it was to rip the clergy letters down from their doors. It also seems that it might be too late to unring that particular bell...