“Publix doesn’t want us at the table… They want us under the table.”

200 join Florida clergy for march on Publix in Sarasota to protest banning of minister from store for support of CIW!

With only a few days notice, religious leaders, farmworkers, and Fair Food activists from the Sarasota area organized an impressive, and inspiring, assembly and march on the Sarasota Publix store where just weeks before the Rev. Clay Thomas had been removed, and banned for a year, for his support of the Campaign for Fair Food.

Rev. Thomas’ removal from the store had caused quite a stir in Sarasota, and the outpouring of support for him and for the cause of farmworker justice that he supports was a truly remarkable sight to see marching down city streets on a 95 degree Sunday afternoon. Signs reading, “My faith calls me to seek justice“, “Our faith in justice will not waiver” and “Living out my faith is not a crime” were a powerful manifestation of the growing grassroots frustration with Publix’s arrogant response to the CIW and to the prospect of participating in the award-winning Fair Food Program.

Media coverage of the event was strong, including these three stories and videos:



Here’s an excerpt from the Herald-Tribune report:

“SARASOTA – Nearly 200 residents, farm workers and members of the clergy protested outside the Broadway Promenade Publix on Sunday on behalf of tomato harvesters they say are underpaid.

Prohibited from leaving the sidewalk along the Tamiami Trail, they reiterated their objections to the store’s recent trespass warning against a local minister and the grocery store chain’s refusal to strike an agreement to get higher wages for tomato farm laborers.

‘Publix doesn’t want us at the table,’ Lucas Benitez, a co-founder of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, told the group before it marched from St. Martha’s Catholic Church to the store. ‘They want us under the table.'” read more

Marchers carried with them a letter, signed by more than 40 religious leaders in the Sarasota area, strongly condemning Publix’s action and its refusal to even meet with the CIW to discuss the Fair Food Program. The letter read, in part:

“It is shameful that Publix would refuse to join such a proven, positive effort and would treat those who support this program with such disrespect, particularly given Publix’s long-standing support of programs that foster well-being in the Florida community.

As people of faith:

• We stand with Florida’s farm laborers in their quest for justice.

• We stand against slavery, abuse and poverty wages.

• We implore Publix to reverse its current position and “do the right thing,” a core value espoused by Publix, by joining the Fair Food Program.

We the undersigned invite you to join us and CIW farmworkers at St. Martha Catholic Church, 200 N. Orange Ave., at 3:30 pm this Sunday. Following a brief gathering we will, in the words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, “pray with our feet” as we proceed to the Promenade Publix on 10th Street for a peaceful witness. Our witness will conclude with a clergy delegation to the store.

May Publix quickly turn from its current path and become a partner with us in ensuring human rights and a sustainable Florida tomato industry.” read more

The march culminated in a delegation of clergy entering the store to deliver the letter and to purchase a bag of Publix’s fair trade coffee — just as Rev. Thomas had entered the same store weeks ago to purchase a sandwich, only to be so rudely removed from the store by Publix representatives aided by local police officers. Though the police were present again this past Sunday, this time Publix seemed to have backed down from its untenable banning of all who would support the CIW, allowing the delegation to purchase the coffee and to talk to the store manager (second from left, with white shirt and sunglasses in the photo below). The religious leaders called for Publix to extend its “proud” support for “livable wages and work conditions” — as it says on every bag of Publix Fair Trade coffee — for coffee harvesters abroad to tomato harvesters in their own home state:

The assembly, march, and delegation were a resounding success, and the message — that farmworkers and their allies, Publix customers all — will not be treated with disrespect was heard loud and clear.

One interesting note from the day: Mark Codd, the Publix representative who made the decision to remove Rev. Thomas and who had repeatedly antagonized participants in several past Campaign for Fair Food actions, was nowhere to be seen on this day. Perhaps Publix is learning that gratuitous insults, misinformation, and surveillance aren’t the wisest strategy for interacting with customers who express legitimate concerns with the company’s business practices.

If that is in fact the case, it is a welcome change after four years of almost unbroken antagonism. Time, of course, will tell.