Pivoting to Publix…

Workers from Immokalee arrive in Friday’s early morning light at the parking lot of a North Naples Publix located at the intersection of Immokalee Road and Hwy 41 — directly across the street from Trader Joe’s first-ever Florida store — following a 35-mile bike trip from Immokalee. The action was shifted to Publix after Trader Joe’s and the CIW signed a Fair Food Agreement late yesterday. With Trader Joe’s decision, the only store on this corner selling tomatoes that were bought the old way, no questions asked, will be Publix. Workers and Fair Food allies will gather outside of Publix again this Sunday (corner of Vanderbilt and 41, @ 2pm) to call on Florida’s grocery giant to follow the lead of Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s in backing the CIW’s groundbreaking Fair Food Program. You can listen to a great story on the bike protest by clicking here.

Following agreement with Trader Joe’s, pressure mounts on Publix as Fast for Fair Food approaches…

As reaction continues to pour in from across the country to yesterday’s news of the CIW’s agreement with Trader Joe’s, the Campaign for Fair Food turns to Publix, demanding — with renewed urgency — that Florida’s largest grocer do its part to improve wages and working conditions in the fields where its tomatoes are picked.

We’ll get back to Publix in a moment, but first just a word on the overwhelming response to the Trader Joe’s agreement. And that word would be… Wow!

Twitter, Facebook, blogs and mainstream media all lit up like never before in the history of the Campaign for Fair Food, with well-wishers offering heartfelt congratulations — to both the CIW and Trader Joe’s — and Fair Food activists letting Publix and the rest of the supermarket industry know that the time for standing in the way of progress is over.

The general response was perhaps best captured in the following, beautifully written statement from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.):

Statement by the Rev. Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and Linda Valentine, Executive Director, General Assembly Mission Counsel, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

On behalf of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), I commend Trader Joe’s and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers on reaching this agreement. By joining the Fair Food Program, Trader Joe’s has strengthened this successful, collaborative model between farmworkers, corporations, growers and consumers, that is advancing farmworkers’ human rights, corporate accountability, and consumer confidence. This humane, cooperative Fair Food Program enables all of us to love our neighbors even as we feed our families.

Presbyterians care deeply about how the food that we purchase has been produced. For more than ten years our church has worked assiduously with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and people of conscience from across the nation toward that day when we will be able to enter a supermarket and purchase tomatoes knowing that the men and women who labored to harvest them were treated with respect, dignity, and fairness. Today, because of Trader Joe’s decision to join the Fair Food Program, we are one step closer to that day.

The supermarket industry buys most of the tomatoes harvested by Florida farmworkers. And so it is imperative that leading supermarket chains use their power to undergird the Fair Food Program. I take this occasion to call, yet again, upon Publix, Ahold and Kroger to stop standing on the sidelines. Inaction in the face of generations of exploitation and a proven model for change is not neutral. Your refusal to join the Fair Food Program threatens to undermine these important gains. The time is now for you to join Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods Market and the eight other major food retailers who are working with the CIW and Florida growers to eliminate exploitation and slavery in the tomato fields.

We celebrate this momentous agreement between Trader Joe’s and the CIW, the PC(USA) renews its commitment to strive with the CIW and its allies for a more just, sustainable and fair food industry.

We will have a complete media round-up on the Trader Joe’s agreement next week. So for now, let’s just take a moment to highlight a particularly powerful line from the PCUSA’s statement:

“Inaction in the face of generations of exploitation and a proven model for change is not neutral.”

That pretty much says it all.

It’s one thing to passively profit from farmworker poverty, as Publix and other supermarket chains have done for decades, buying artificially cheap tomatoes off the market, no questions asked, unconcerned about how they came to be so cheap.

But it’s something else all together to affirmatively perpetuate farmworker poverty, as Publix and the other supermarket chains are doing when they refuse to participate in the Fair Food Program.

Today, unlike in the past, a “proven model for change” does exist. And so, when a $28 billion supermarket giant like Publix refuses to pay a single penny more to do its part to fight farmworker poverty, it is acting to keep farmworkers, and their families, in desperate and degrading poverty. It is as if Publix is saying farmworkers should be poor.

And don’t even get us started on Publix’s position on abusive farm labor conditions (“If there are some atrocities going on, it’s not our business“)…

So, today, with now two national supermarket chains standing firmly behind the Fair Food Program, Publix and the other supermarket chains have nowhere left to hide. Which is why Rabbis for Human Rights – North America held a pray-in at a Naples Publix store this week during a three-day immersion visit to Immokalee (below – you can read more about the rabbis’ visit here):

And which is why farmworkers and their allies will be fasting outside Publix headquarters next month in the six-day Fast for Fair Food.

The pressure on Publix is only going to continue to grow. How much longer will its leaders continue to needlessly soil the reputation of this once proud company?