Florida Clergy to Publix: “Lack of respect for… workers who harvest the tomatoes you sell is inexplicable.”

From the Gainesville Sun: “A penny, used to illustrate the request of a penny-per-pound increase on tomatoes, lies at the feet of Father Les Singleton of the Episcopal Church of the Mediator in Micanopy, as he speaks to members and supporters of Gainesville Interfaith Alliance for Immigrant Justice during a press conference at University Lutheran Church, Friday, Aug. 24, 2012. The group released a letter signed by a number of Jewish, Christian and Muslim religious leaders in Gainesville and Ocala calling on Publix executives to join other supermarket and fast food corporations in supporting fair wages and working conditions for Florida farm workers.” Photo by Doug Finger, Gainesville Sun staff photographer

An impressive interfaith alliance of 43 religious leaders from the Gainesville area have signed a letter urging Publix to join the CIW’s Fair Food Program without further delay. The letter reads in part:

“As people of faith, we share a common scriptural heritage in the cry of the Prophets for justice… The message of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and the other prophets of ancient Israel is direct and specific about the wages and working conditions of those who labor in the fields, condemning those who take advantage and exploit workers. Our scriptures also articulate a sacred obligation to care for the alien, the stranger, and the sojourner as for our own.  We cannot be faithful in preaching our Scriptures or teaching our congregations if we remain silent in the face of injustice; such silence would make us accomplices with injustice.”

The religious leaders express their disappointment with Publix for the company’s “lack of respect for and continued refusal to meet with the workers who harvest the tomatoes you sell,” and conclude by saying:

“For now, we commit ourselves and our congregations to praying for you, Publix, and for your shareholders, and your managers and associates that you may have a new approach to the Immokalee workers. You could start by listening to them at least.  We think you’re better than you’ve shown yourselves so far, and we believe that you can still live up to the ethical standard set by your founder and his successors.”

At a press conference in Gainesville last week to publicize the letter, one of the founders of the Gainesville alliance added a poignant reminder for the leaders of Florida’s “neighborhood grocer”. From the Gainesville Sun report:

“Sheila Payne, who helped form the Gainesville alliance, picked tomatoes in the fields of Homestead as a child. She said the biggest issue for workers is respect.

“If you talk to farm workers, they don’t talk about wages first,” she said. “They talk about being treated like a human being.” read more

The Gainesville religious leaders join a growing list of clergy and lay people who are coming together through the Campaign for Fair Food to demand justice from Florida’s largest grocer, a demand deeply rooted in their faith and embraced by Christian, Jewish, and Muslim congregations across the state of Florida. A similar letter was signed and published by a group of 15 religious leaders from Tallahassee earlier this year, and interfaith religious support was the heart and soul of this past spring’s Fast for Fair Food outside Publix headquarters in Lakeland.

The Faith Moves Mountains Campaign, launched last January in support of the Campaign for Fair Food, is perhaps the most eloquent projection of this growing movement. Check out the video below, and go here to see a few ideas on how you can get involved through your local religious community: