Candles were lit outside of the Southgate Publix on South Florida Avenue as protestors from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers protested Publix’s refusal to join the Fair Food Program.
The CIW’s “Now is the time” tour began in Immokalee, Fla. From there it went to Columbus, Ohio and ended in Lakeland. Several different organizations came together in front of the Southgate Publix for a 24-hour vigil. One of the protesters was Pat Cambias from UniteHere, who was optimistic about the protest.
“We know it works because it’s worked before,” Cambias said.
The CIW’s website states that the Fair Food Program requires corporate participants to pay a penny more per pound of tomatoes. The site says that the penny will help increase wages, help compliance with the Code of Conduct, create worker-to-worker education sessions and a worker-triggered complaint resolution mechanism, start health and safety committees on farms and require farm audits.
Publix has told sources, such as the Tampa Bay Times, that it sees the issue as a labor dispute since the penny goes directly towards workers and that the company does not involve itself in such disputes. A media document from Publix, named “Put it in the Price,” said that Publix carries over 40,000 products.
“Each product comes from a supplier, and with so many suppliers, we could literally be drawn into a potential dispute between an employer and their employee at any time,” the document reads.
The document goes on to say that the chain has eliminated suppliers who do not treat their employees fairly in the past. They have also worked with the Food Marketing Industry to “affect change for farm workers.”
The store said that it would be willing to pay more to ensure good conditions for workers, as long as the extra money was put into the price of the product, which it currently is not.
However, according to the CIW website other chain stores, like McDonald’s and Whole Foods, signed up to be part of the program. One of the most recent additions was Walmart.
“They were smart enough not to pick a fight,” Cambias said.