War of words breaks out amongst reps for Publix & CIW in advance of farmworkers protest on Saturday

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As we reported on Thursday, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) intends to hold a major protest in front of a South Dale Mabry Publix grocery store tomorrow afternoon, with protesters meeting up at other Tampa Publix stores earlier in the day and marching to the South Tampa location.  In a nutshell for those who haven't been following the farmworkers goal, they have been pleading for a decade now on getting paid slightly more (a penny per pound of tomatoes, as well as establishing a monitoring system to scrutinize their immediate employers behavior towards the farmworkers).

After reading our story yesterday, Publix spokesperson Shannon Patten responded.  She said in part that Publix is simply a different type of business establishment than the other entities that the CIW has targeted in the past (like McDonalds, Burger King, Yum Brands!) and therefore shouldn't be subjected to the same level of dissent that those companies have received.

We are an associate-owned, Florida based supermarket. Any campaign to support workers should support rather than target the associate owned supermarket. Associate ownership is an important difference between Publix and its competitors. We are consistently recognized as a Great Place to Work. We are unlike any of our competitors with regard to our treatment of employees. This is validated by simply entering any Publix store. So the CIW's campaign against Publix is one directed at an acknowledged employer of choice and a great place to work. The CIW's campaign to boycott the purchase of Publix tomatoes ironically hurts Florida farmworkers and the citizens of Florida who will see a withering Florida produce industry.

On the crucial issue on paying an extra penny per pound, Patten says:

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. However, we will not pay employees of other companies directly for their labor. That is the responsibility of their employer.We suggest that whatever the impact of their negotiations, they put the cost of the tomatoes in the price they charge the industry for the goods.

In response, Sean Sellers from the CIW says, "Funny thing: that's exactly how we do the program — repackers charge the extra penny to the retail buyer and those funds are then accounted for and passed on to the growers.  It is price based. " He adds that "For most buyers, unless they themselves prefer a different system, the Fair Food premium is in fact built directly into the price. All Publix has to do is say the word, and formally agree to the code of conduct they say they already support, and we can get started working together to make the Florida tomato industry the pride of the US agricultural industry"

The protest is scheduled to take place 2 p.m. at the Publix store on 1313 S. Dale Mabry Highway.

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