The Coalition of Immokalee Workers is pressuring Publix Super Markets Inc. to join its cause in increasing farmworker pay.

Coalition of Immokalee Workers pickets Publix

On Dec. 6, coalition protestors marched through downtown Lakeland, Fla., the chain’s headquarters.

They rallied in front of a Publix store and carried signs that accused the chain of supporting alleged farmworker abuse.

According to the group’s Web site, the protestors want the chain to stop buying tomatoes from grower-shippers that the coalition says abuse their workers.

“We will hold you accountable for the human rights abuses of your suppliers,” the group told Publix in the rally and on its Web site.

With more than 35,000 products in its stores, Maria Brous, Publix’s director of media and community relations, said it’s impossible for the chain to intervene in disputes between workers and the suppliers.

“We have a longstanding policy of nonintervention in labor disputes,” she said. “For us, it’s an issue between the farmworkers and their employers. We are not in a position to determine what that rate for picking tomatoes should be. We are more than willing to pay whatever that rate is that’s established, but not be a decision maker.”

Brous said the chain has urged the parties to come to the table for resolution of the issue.

The coalition has brokered deals that have major fast-food chains paying an additional penny per-pound for Florida-grown tomatoes.

In September, Plant City, Fla.-based East Coast Brokers and Packers Inc. broke with other Florida grower-shippers and became the first large commercial Florida tomato grower to partner with the coalition.

In September, the coalition struck “penny per pound” deals with Denver-based Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. and foodservice purveyor Compass Group North America.