Friday, April 16, 2010

Coalition of pickers demand a penny more from Publix

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers will begin a three day march today to try to get more money for farm workers. We linked to a story about the CIW recently when they began a moving poverty museum to shed light on the plight of tomato pickers in Florida.

Now the CIW begins the march to demand that Publix supermarkets pay a penny more a pound for tomatoes. Even the small penny per pound will greatly improve the wages of workers. Some of those workers are held captive against their will to keep doing the job. Some stories of mistreatment include feeding the workers drugs instead of paychecks or beating them into staying.

From this Associated Press story that we found at NPR, we hear from both sides on this issue.

Publix spokeswoman Shannon Patten said the group's call to not buy Publix tomatoes could end up hurting Florida residents and farmworkers by lessening demand for an important product. Florida provides most of the nation's domestic winter tomato crop.

Patten added that it wasn't the supermarket chain's role to negotiate tomato prices.

"That price is set by the grower or packer," Patten said in the statement. "We do not intervene in labor disputes between suppliers and their employees. Each store carries more than 35,000 different products and tomatoes are a small part of our product mix."

Coalition spokesman Gerardo Reyes said the march isn't just about the price paid to workers for picking tomatoes. It's also about how the workers are treated in the fields and why corporations should care.

"Forced labor, poverty, and abuse are all too real for Florida farmworkers," Reyes said.

The coalition wants Publix to stop buying produce from growers that don't meet certain standards for workers in the fields. The group claims it took Publix more than a year to stop buying from two Florida tomato farms where four people forced workers to pick crops and were convicted on slavery charges in 2008.

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