Lakeland, FL – After a six day fast, members of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) broke bread with 1000 supporters to protest the Publix food corporation un-fair treatment of its workers, March 10. The CIW is a group of Latin American and Haitian farm workers and tomato-pickers fighting against modern day slavery and for living wages. Presently, the Immokalee Workers are putting pressure on Publix Supermarket for not paying a penny more per pound of tomatoes. Publix is mainly located in Florida but also has stores in Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama.
In the tomato fields, immigrant workers endure low pay, poor work conditions and even physical abuse. For women it is worse than men due to sexual harassment. Some workers are forced to live under slavery type conditions, held against their will, forced to live in shacks and trailers, and enduring bosses’ beatings and punishment. There are new cases every year.
For Publix, though money and profits come first. In order for farm workers to earn minimum wage, each worker has to pick 2.25 tons of tomatoes during a 10-hour workday. In the supply chains, the food corporations set the prices for the tomatoes they buy. So in order for the workers to obtain fair pay, they must demand grocery chain corporations pay more for the tomatoes. In the past, the Immokalee workers signed agreements with corporations like McDonalds, Taco Bell and Aramark, after hard-fought campaigns. Each time, the Immokalee workers forced the big corporations to negotiate over their demands by creating public support for living wages, humane treatment and fairness. Now it is time for Publix to pay a fair price.
The farm worker supporters met at a local Publix supermarket on a hot Florida Saturday, March 10. The message was, “Publix pay a living wage!” The supporters circled outside the store waving signs like “Publix: Recognize farm workers humanity” and “Publix escucha estamos en la lucha” (Publix, listen, we are in the struggle). Marisol Marquez of Tampa Bay's Students Working for Equal Rights said, "Publix shows us how corporate greed meets us in our own backyard. They care more about pennies than workers being able to live."
From the Publix parking lot, the protesters embarked on a three-mile procession through Lakeland to Publix headquarters. There they greeted the fasting farm workers. The farm workers held signs that said, "I go hungry today so my children won't have to tomorrow." Then speakers lined up to talk about the injustices served up by Publix and other food corporations. The crowd listened to local religious leaders, Ethel Kennedy (widow of Robert F. Kennedy) and Jose Jose, a famed Mexican singer. Their message: “Stop the injustice! Publix pay a penny more!” On the anniversary of Cesar Chavez's fast for migrant farm workers rights, the Immokalee Workers ended their fast by breaking bread with supporters. The rally came to a close with demands for Publix to reach an agreement. The Immokalee Workers vowed not to give up, and to continue the struggle for the rights of farm workers.