Immokalee workers fight Publix for fair wages

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Immokalee farm workers are picketing Publix, trying to persuade the company to pay one penny more per pound of tomatoes harvested.

“We work in very, very hot conditions with a lot of heat under the sun, also we’re exposed to pesticides,” 27-year-old farm worker Oscar Otzoy said.

For thirty years, thousands of Immokalee farm workers like Otzoy have worked for the same wage; 50 cents for 32-lbs of tomatoes picked.

“We come here looking for a better life, but unfortunately we encounter very difficult conditions working in the fields,” Otzoy said.

“In order to make the equivalent of minimum wage for a typical ten hour day, they must harvest two tons of tomatoes,” Coalition of Immokalee Workers liason Jordan Buckley said.

In November 2010, the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange signed an agreement with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, creating a code of conduct to protect those in the field from harassment and abuse, and to pay them an additional penny per pound picked.

That’s a 64-percent increase and the first raise for workers in 30 years.

The agreement is something major fast food chains and some supermarkets have agreed to pay, but not Publix.

“All we ask is that Publix, our neighborhood grocer, do the same thing,” Buckley said.

Coalition members plan to ride their bikes to Lakewood, Florida, where Publix’s corporate office is located, to ask CEO Ed Crenshaw to visit Immokalee.

Publix officials said in a statement :

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 packer. Again, we pay market value for tomatoes, or whatever they charge us.

We are more than willing to pay a penny more per pound, or whatever the market price for tomatoes will be. We suggest that they put the cost of the tomatoes in the price they charge the industry.

We will not pay employees of other companies directly for their labor. That is the responsibility of their employers. Employers should pay wages, not those outside of the employment relationship.

We do NOT purchase tomatoes from 6L or Pacific Tomatoes. We have in the past, but we no longer do so. We DO purchase tomatoes from East Coast Growers, which is the exact grower the CIW suggests we use.

Shannon Patten
Media and Community Relations Manager
Publix Super Markets, inc.


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