Southwest Florida religious leader excoriates Publix in powerful Op/Ed!

Calls Publix’s response to human rights violations in supply chain “deplorable”…

The Publix “P” becomes an ostrich in this original cartoon by Fair Food activist Casey N. Kindle.

In a scorching Op/Ed published in Monday’s Ft. Myers News-Press, Rabbi Bruce Diamond penned a rousing call to action for all people of faith — all Fair Food activists — who are exasperated with Publix’s refusal to do its part in reforming farm labor conditions in Florida.

Because the News-Press has yet to post the piece online, we are including the text here below in its entirety:

Publix’s stone wall starting to crumble

Jon Esformes, operating partner of the family-owned Pacific Tomato Growers — one of the largest growers in the nation — quoted Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s famous dictum, “In a free society, few are guilty, but all are responsible,” when he announced an agreement with the 4,000-member Coalition of Immokalee Workers to implement a penny-a-pound raise for the workers and to improve their working conditions. (“Tomato grower, harvesters strike historic accord,” Oct. 14).

Soon afterwards, Six L’s followed suit as well as the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange representing 90 percent of the state’s tomato growers, which brought the long and difficult campaign with the growers to a successful conclusion.

The additional penny a pound, which McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Burger King and Whole Foods had already agreed to pay for Florida tomatoes, can potentially raise a typical worker’s earnings from the 1970s level of $10,000 to a more livable $17,000.

However, the wage increase depends on the willingness of tomato retailers to pay that extra penny.

Publix, a major buyer of Florida tomatoes, adamantly refuses to join the penny-a-pound program.

The official position of Publix is not to intervene in labor disputes between suppliers and their employees.

While that might have been a plausible position to take in the past, now that the “labor dispute” has been resolved, what possible reason could Publix have to not add a mere penny a pound to the price it pays its suppliers so that they might pass it on to the workers who harvest its tomatoes?

And who among us would mind paying that extra penny knowing it would be passed along to the men and women whose backbreaking toil puts fresh produce on our tables?

But now it becomes clear that Publix’s refusal to cooperate had little to do with “labor disputes,” and that this was just a smokescreen.

Publix’s Media and Community Relations Manager Dwaine Stevens recently told The Bulletin, an Alabama newspaper, “We don’t have any plans to sit down with the CIW.” (“Protesters picket Publix’s Saturday grand opening over labor issues,” Dec. 11.) He explained that Publix sells nearly 36,000 products in its stores and cannot address each product’s labor issues. He added, “If there are some atrocities going on, it’s not our business. Maybe it’s something the government should get involved with.”

This deplorable statement closely echoes the sentiments of Dachau’s townspeople regarding the infamous camp just outside of their town.

What a far cry from the idea that “in a free society, few are guilty, but all are responsible,” and the principle of fairness to working people that is shared by all the world’s great religions.

You don’t have to be a tea party member to understand that we don’t need government to tell us right from wrong, nor do we need its permission to battle injustice! All that is needed is an informed and aroused public.

For sure, a coalition of subsistence workers taking on America’s largest privately owned supermarket chain seems a daunting if not impossible battle.

But men and women of faith know that when are you on the side of the angels, nothing is impossible!

The News-Press’ recognition of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers as “People of the Year” give us the confidence that Publix’s stone wall is starting to crumble!


Bruce Diamond is Rabbi at Fort Myers Community Free Synagogue and teaches Civic Engagement at Florida Gulf Coast University.

If you, like Rabbi Diamond and thousands of other Fair Food activists across the country, are fed up with the supermarket industry’s stalling on social responsibility, join us for the Do The Right Thing Tour in Boston and Tampa!