Fast for Fair Food: Farmworkers Fast so "Our Children Won't Have To"
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Publix has consistently repeated the same arguments against joining the Fair Food Program, arguing that it is inconvenient to pay the extra for the workers, claiming that it isn't incorporated into the price of the tomatoes (it is, as a premium similar to how other fair trade products are priced), and accusing the workers of lying about their working conditions and wages, citing minimum wage laws that don't apply to the farmworkers, and claiming ignorance of recorded instances of actual conditions of slavery at Florida tomato growers.
In a point-by-point rebuttal of the supermarket giant's arguments, the CIW pointed out that “Florida tomato harvesters are still paid by the piece. The average piece rate today is 50 cents for every 32-lb bucket of tomatoes that workers pick. At the current rate, a worker must pick more than 2.25 tons of tomatoes to earn minimum wage in a typical 10-hour workday – nearly twice the amount a worker had to pick to earn minimum wage thirty years ago.”
The Fair Food Program incorporates retailers like Publix, fast food restaurants like McDonald's and Subway, as well as the tomato growers themselves, making all levels of the food supply chain accountable for the conditions of the workers at its base. Recently, the CIW came to a historic agreement with the Florida Tomato Grower's Exchange to join the program, improving wages and conditions for over 30,000 workers across the state. But Publix and other supermarkets' refusal to join and pay the premium shorts the workers and relies on others to regulate working conditions, while they take no responsibility for the products they sell. Other corporations, including Yum Brands, Burger King, Whole Foods Market, Bon Appetit Management Company, Compass Group, Aramark, Sodexo, and most recently Trader Joe’s have taken that responsibility by signing on to the program, and the workers retain hope that Publix will relent and be the next to do so.
The workers will break their fast on Saturday, but their fight for better treatment goes on. They simply want to know why Publix doesn't live up to the words of its founder, quoted recently in an interview by CEO Crenshaw himself: “Don’t let making a profit stand in the way of doing the right thing.”
Sarah Jaffe is an associate editor at AlterNet, a rabblerouser and frequent Twitterer. You can follow her at @seasonothebitch.