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Churches Join Fight for Fair Wages for Immokalee Workers

March 8, 2012, 11:54 am | Posted by Casey Schoeneberger

Beginning in 2001, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (comprised mostly of Latino, Mayan Indian and Haitian immigrants in low-wage jobs) launched the Campaign for Fair Food, an initiative to encourage food retailers to pay farmworkers a penny more for each pound of tomatoes they pick.

Publix, a Florida-based retail food chain, is staunchly refusing to join the Campaign for Fair Food and end its exploitative business practices.

In an effort to alert Publix’s customers to this alarming decision and pressure the food retailer to join the campaign, the CIW, National Council of Churches Poverty Initiative, Florida Presbyterians and numerous other groups joined together at Publix’s Corporate Headquarters to begin a 6-day fast, “…insisting that Publix – Florida’s largest corporation – finally recognize the humanity of the workers who pick its tomatoes…”

Michael Livingston, a participant in the fast and  Director of the NCC Poverty Initiative reflects on the solidarity between farmworkers and people of faith:

It’s day one of six days of fasting with farmworkers and their supporters at the corporate headquarters of Publix in Lakeland, FL. I’m already impressed with the quiet dignity of workers with whom I cannot communicate using the English I speak or the Spanish they speak. Yet we stand together under the same bright sun and our very presence alongside a busy thoroughfare, announces a firm commitment to seek justice for a workforce whose humanity has been ignored by a system of labor that is fundamentally unjust.

While retailers such as Burger King, Subway, Whole Foods Market, Trader Joe’s and McDonald’s have joined the Fair Food Campaign, Publix’s refusal to join the campaign amounts to nothing short of a full endorsement of the inhumane wages workers are paid for their labor.

Bill Maxwell of the  Tampa Bay Times criticizes Publix’s blatant exploitation of farm workers:

…each time I buy tomatoes at a Publix, I am mindful of the back-breaking toil of the laborers who picked them and lugged them to a truck. I also am aware that for each 32-pound bucket of tomatoes picked, a worker gets on average 50 cents, a rate unchanged since 1980. Most workers earn roughly $10,000 a year. Besides low wages, they have no right to overtime pay, no health insurance, no sick leave, no paid vacation and no right to organize to change these conditions.

With CIW’s successful history of pressuring retailers to pay farmworkers a penny more per pound, it only remains to be seen how long Publix will choose to embarrass itself and denigrate its public image by abetting the exploitation of working people.

To stand with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and the “Fast for Fair Food”, check out these resources.

Photo Credit: Fast for Fair Food

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