“Publix maintains a hardness of heart that would do Pharaoh proud”…

Over 100 protesters marched from Publix to Chipotle in Naples, Florida, yesterday in a loud and colorful action that captured consumers’ growing frustration with those companies’ stubborn refusal to support the historic labor reforms taking shape today in Florida’s tomato fields through the CIW’s Fair Food Program.

Campaign for Fair Food ramping up for new season with protests at Publix stores in Tennessee, Tallahassee, Gainesville, and Naples!

As farmworkers filter back to Immokalee from the summer season up north, and students return to schools across the country with plans to accelerate their activism in support of the CIW’s Fair Food Program, the pressure is building on Publix to stop hiding behind empty excuses and start doing its part to help improve the lives of the workers who pick its tomatoes.

The latest protest took place yesterday in Naples, Florida, where over 100 workers and Fair Food activists joined in a joyous protest. From the Naples Daily News:

“NORTH NAPLES — Alternating between shouts and song, a group of college students, farmworkers and other activists lined a North Naples intersection Saturday afternoon to drum up support for agricultural labor reform.

In the hope of replicating previous successes with companies like Burger King and Taco Bell, which signed “fair food” agreements supporting wage increases and improved working conditions for field workers, a crowd led by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers gathered at U.S. 41 and Vanderbilt Beach Road to demand support from Publix supermarket and fast food chain Chipotle…” read more

Similar protests took place over the course of the past week in Nashville, TN (read the Leaf Chronicle story), and Gainesville (read the Gainesville Sun and Independent Alligator stories) and Tallahassee (see the WCTV story and read the FAMU student newspaper report), Florida.

Frustration with Publix’s intransigence is reaching new heights, as reflected in letters and online posts by consumers who are growing weary of the company’s hollow justifications for inaction. Father Frank Corbishley (Chaplain with the Episcopal Church Center at the University of Miami) shared a letter he is sending to Publix CEO Ed Crenshaw with the CIW:

“Dear Mr. Crenshaw:

My family has been boycotting Publix Supermarkets for about three years. Enclosed are just a few random sales receipts I’ve saved from recent shopping trips to a local IGA, where we now do our shopping. These receipts total approximately $1,500.00, and they represent only a few weeks of shopping out of the year. We are a family of five, so we spend quite a lot on groceries.

McDonald’s, Burger King, Yum Brands, Subway, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and others have seen fit to work with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers to ensure that workers in the tomato fields of Florida receive better pay and work in safer and healthier conditions. The Florida Tomato Growers Exchange is also working with the CIW to improve the lot of the poorest of the poor among us. Yet Publix maintains a hardness of heart that would do Pharaoh proud!

Publix is located closer to our house than the local IGA. As a large chain, Publix also carries virtually every grocery product we want. It would be so much more convenient for us to shop at Publix, but our conscience won’t allow it. It is high time that you join corporations with a conscience and sign on to the Fair Food Program sponsored by the CIW!”

Meanwhile, Kate Savage from Nashville Fair Food penned a stellar reflection over Labor Day Weekend in which she makes a quick, back-of-the-envelope calculation of the cost of travel for Publix’s representatives to Nashville from Lakeland to watch over their peaceful protests. She then compares that cost to the penny-per-pound that could be going to improve farmworkers’ lives, concluding that, in the final analysis, Publix’s refusal to join the Fair Food Program couldn’t be about the economics of the situation, but rather about pride:

“… So, while Publix stonewalls, we did some math.

CheapOair is listing the best price for a flight from Tampa to Nashville and back, economy class, at $300. So even assuming that Mr. [V] doesn’t get any special business class perks (or private jets), and ignoring the costs of hotels, that’s enough money to pay the extra penny premium for 30,000 pounds of tomatoes. Or about a thousand buckets, one thousand buckets carried by actual people, in the heat of the Florida day, for wages that have remained stagnant since the seventies. Usually Publix sends us two managers from Florida, so that can be doubled.

Instead of conceding to the needs of farmworkers’ demands, Publix, month after month, forks out the cash to fly out their [representatives] to tell us “We don’t agree with fair food.”

At a certain point, it becomes clear this isn’t about economics–Publix has said themselves they’re not hung up on the cost. It is, rather, an issue of pride. Publix doesn’t want a direct relationship with the workers on the bottom rung of the supply chain. They want to pay people who pay people who pay people who do that. They do not want anyone drawing the connection between the desperation and pain in the labor that produces what they sell, and their final profits…” read more

With students back in school across the country, and Student/Farmworker Alliance chapters from Florida to California making plans to ramp up the Campaign for Fair Food this coming season, Publix — and the supermarket industry as a whole — would do well to reconsider its strategy and get ahead of the growing consumer demand for Fair Food. In the 21st century, supermarkets can run, but they can’t hide from a shopping public that is every day more informed about the labor conditions behind the food they eat, and every day more vocal about their desire for a food industry that respects human rights, not exploits human beings.