Friday, April 16, 2010

[olympiaworkers] Where Shopping is Oppression: The Coalition of Immokalee Workers take on Publix

Written by Dawn Nadiye
Wednesday, 14 April 2010

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers is a grassroots, Florida-based
farmworker group, largely comprised of Mexican, Guatemalan and Haitian
immigrants. In recent years, by way of high-profile consumer campaigns,
the CIW has compelled the world's four largest fast food companies, among
others, to concede to demands for better pay and unprecedented labor
rights. This time, beloved Sunshine State darling Publix Supermarkets is
in the tomato pickers' sights.

Why? Here are 5 secrets Publix does not want you to know:


Despite its sterling rep as your charming neighborhood grocer, Publix is
massive, ruthless and powerful. Forbes Magazine, capitalism's trusted
scorekeeper, weighs Publix in as the 9th largest private corporation in
the United States. Publix exudes family-friendliness exquisitely. But
when presented with the opportunity to more fairly compensate desperately
impovershed farmworker families at minimal cost to its profit line, they
reacted like any other modern for-profit pulling in $24 billion a year


The CIW is demanding that Publix join Whole Foods, Burger King,
McDonald's, Taco Bell and other major retailers in paying a penny more per
pound for its tomatoes to directly increase farmworker wages.

Tomato picker wages in Florida have remained stagnant since 1978 -- more
than 3 decades of an essentially unchanged pay rate: 40 to 50 cents per
32-lb bucket of tomatoes. To make just the equivalent of minimum wage in
a typical 10-hour day, a worker must harvest 2.5 tons of tomatoes, one by

Say Publix is selling a pound of tomatoes for $2.49; not even 2 cents for
that full pound goes to the laborer who actually harvested and hauled it.
The extra penny for workers won't break Publix's bank: indeed, the roots
of opposition aren't economic but ideological. Publix fears organized
labor, it shrinks from the prospect of future accountability for the cheap
cost of the products they sell.


When facing heat from the CIW about the need to sign an accord for better
wages and working conditions for tomato pickers, Burger King hired a spy
to infiltrate teleconferences of the Student/Farmworker Alliance, a key
ally group to the CIW. Fast Food Nation author Eric Schlosser outed the
espionage on the pages of the New York Times, and BK was forced to
immediately fire a complicit vice president and give in to all of the
CIW's demands. A lesson to others, perhaps?

Apparently not everyone. An unknown man with camera in tow attended the
CIW's first Publix picket -- Oct. 17th in Naples, FL -- and told several
present that he was "an old hippie" making a documentary about social
movements. Asked multiple times by multiple people (including a Lutheran
minister), he insisted he did not work for Publix.

In Naples, and other SW Florida towns playing host to CIW pickets that
weekend, he closely filmed protesting farmworkers without saying a word to
them. He did, however, periodically chat with Publix management posted in
front of the grocery entrances. These well-dressed men -- a PR team
dispatched from corporate headquarters to nearly all Publix pickets to
date -- communicated directly to picketers that no one could film on
Publix's premises. The "old hippie" nonetheless always did, unperturbed by
the suits.

Sketchy? You bet, thought Andrea Ortiz, a New College student. Andrea
asked the cameraman for his and his film company's name, as well as his
phone number. "Tom" he answered, scrawling out his digits and "Southeast

A senior reporter for the Ft. Myers News-Press investigated further: no
film company is registered under that name. The number belongs to Thomas
McGuigan of Tampa -- none other than an employee of Publix's video
division. The reporter called McGuigan who affirmed that he filmed the
protests. From the News-Press article:

Asked why he didn't tell the coalition he works for Publix and if he was
filming at the company's behest, the call was disconnected. Repeated calls
weren't returned.

After months of absence following the front-page expose, Tom the hippie
returned to a picket in St. Pete – this time sporting an "I (heart)
Publix" button on his chest.


The CIW has helped to successfully prosecute 6 separate slavery cases in
Florida agriculture in the last dozen years. The most recent case
involved tomato pickers in Immokalee who were locked in a cargo truck by
night and taken to work in tomato fields by day. For punishment,
crewleaders slit the belly of one worker with a knife and chained others
to a pole. In Dec 2008, the crewleaders pled guilty on slavery charges in
federal court.

The fields where the enslaved workers harvested tomatoes belong to two
large tomato growers: Six L's and Pacific. Both are major suppliers to

Publix competitor Whole Foods also bought tomatoes from Six L's and
Pacific. Upon learning of the slavery conviction, Whole Foods was
obligated to honor the code of conduct jointly drafted with CIW which
outlines zero-tolerance for slavery-tainted growers in its tomato supply
chain. Accordingly, Whole Foods cut their purchases.

Publix, however, refuses -- apparently seeing no cause for concern with
buying from growers corrupted by proven slave labor in their fields.



The CIW has announced a major march -- three days, 22-miles -- between
Tampa and Lakeland, home of Publix Headquarters, under the banner: Freedom
from Forced Labor, Freedom from Abuse, Freedom from Poverty and

(For a sense of some of the political climate near where Publix decision
makers live, consider Lakeland's neighbor 30 miles southeast, Lake Wales.
In 2008, John Paul Rogers -- longtime grand dragon of the United Klans of
Florida, a KKK faction -- was elected to its city council.)


To show precisely the nature of growers' operations where Publix
unblinkingly buys its tomatoes, the CIW has developed a museum focused on
the evolving history of slavery in Florida agriculture: its roots, the
reason it persists and its solutions. The museum aims to relay the
following: Slavery does not occur in a vacuum; it flourishes in industries
where workers are dramatically poor and powerless, and farmworkers have
always been among the poorest, least powerful laborers in Florida.

The museum consists of a cargo truck outfitted as a replica of the one in
which tomato pickers in Immokalee were enslaved during the most recent
case. The truck's design is based on the expertise of the men actually
locked inside it, whom are now CIW members and active participants in
Publix actions. Educational displays supplement the recreation of the
crime scene that served as the men's quarters, the combined scholarship of
leading academics in the study of slavery and Florida's farm labor

For the six weeks preceding the Farmworker Freedom March, the CIW will
have toured the museum across the state.

The museum will accompany the Farmworker Freedom March until its arrival
at Munn Park in downtown Lakeland. There Publix executives, along with
their family, friends and neighbors, will have the chance to see firsthand
the living conditions of those forced to work in their tomato suppliers'

No comments: