Publix CEO blows off Coalition of Immokalee Workers

That's not unusual. For more than two years, the Coalition says, Publix has ignored all of their correspondence asking to meet to discuss the grocery giant's potential participation in the Fair Food accords, and instead the only communications between the two groups have been in exchanges in press accounts like this.

Last November, the Coalition and the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange reached an agreement that will extend the CIW's Fair Food principles — including a strict code of conduct, a cooperative complaint resolution system, a participatory health and safety program, and a worker-to-worker education process — to over 90% of the Florida tomato industry.

That meant for this past season, companies like Mickey D's and BK agreed to pass through the penny-per-pound fand cooperate with a financial audit of the penny-per-pound funds.

Publix spokesperson Shannon Patten says the extra per pound should be included in the price that they pay for tomatoes. She told the Lakeland Ledger that:

"We are more than wiling to pay a penny more per pound, or whatever the market price for tomatoes will be in order to provide the goods to our customers. It's up to tomato growers and packers to adjust farmworkers' wages."

“We suggest that they put the cost of the tomatoes in the price they charge the industry,” Patten said.

But a spokesman for the Coalition says that's hogwash. Jordan Buckley with Interfaith Action says "Virtually nearly all of the farms in the state - any retailer that is willing to pay an extra penny per pound for the price of their tomatoes, those growers will distribute it to the farmworkers to increase their wages, and there's a third party auditor to insure that it reaches the workers."

Buckley says after having successfully negotiated with the four largest fast food companies and three largest food services, now they're calling on the supermarket industry to simply follow suit.

The Coalition held a major protest at the South Tampa Publix off of Dale Mabry Highway earlier this year, but still, their leadership is resisting sitting down with the farmworkers.

"Basically we've seen consistently misleading statements coming from their P.R. department," Jordan says. "(Publix spokesperson) Shannon Patten says "well 'if they put it in the price we'll be more than happy to pay the penny.' Well they know full well that it's in the price, it just requires that Publix actually pay the penny."

Shannon Patten responded to CL's inquiry, writing in an e-mail,

We're saying, "put it in the price!" Simply stated, Publix is MORE than willing to pay a penny more per pound or whatever the market price for tomatoes will be in order to provide the goods to our customers. We suggest that they put the cost of the tomatoes in the price they charge the industry. As a retailer, we pay market value for tomatoes. We do NOT determine what the price is or should be - that price is set by the grower or the packer. We are more than willing to pay more for the goods, but we will not pay employees of other companies directly for their labor. That is the responsibility of the employer. Employers should pay wages, not those outside of the employment relationship.

So the impasse continues for now.

  • A Publix PR spokesman meets with members of the CIW

Over the last decade, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers has extracted agreements with some of the country's biggest food corporations, agreeing to the farmworkers request to receive an extra penny per pound of tomatoes they pick in Florida.

Yum Brands!, which represents Taco Bell and KFC, were the first corporation to agree to the farmworker terms. Later McDonalds, Burger King and Subway also agreed to pay the additional amount.

But Publix, the largest grocer in Florida, hasn't budged an inch, and on Tuesday, while members of the Coalition biked from Tampa or places further to go to Publix corporate headquarters in Lakeland, their CEO, Ed Crenshaw, was "unavailable" to meet with workers.

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