Immokalee tomato labor group pressures Publix

06/10/2009 11:01:28 AM
Doug Ohlemeier

(UPDATE COVERAGE, June 10) Shortly after garnering support from two growers, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers has begun pressuring Publix Super Markets Inc., Lakeland, Fla., to participate in deals to increase pay for Florida tomato workers.

The coalition (CIW) started a letter-writing campaign to convince Publix to pay its farmworkers an additional penny per-pound.

Maria Brous, Publix’s director of media and community relations, issued a statement saying that tomatoes are just one of more than 35,000 products Publix sells.

“With so many products available for sale to consumers, the reality is that there is the potential for countless ongoing disputes between suppliers, their employees and/or their unions, at any one time,” she said in the statement. “Publix has a long history of non-intervention in such disputes.”

Whole Foods Market Inc., Austin, Texas, said June 4 that two Florida organic vegetable grower-shippers joined the retailer’s efforts to support the coalition’s penny initiative.

Bob Spencer, West Coast Tomato Inc.

Libba Letton, a Whole Foods spokeswoman, said the agreements with Alderman Farms Sales Corp., Boynton Beach, Fla., and Chambersburg, Pa.-based Lady Moon Farms Inc., which has a Punta Gorda, Fla., operation, has the retailer paying them a premium to distribute to its workers.

Bob Spencer, vice president and sales manager of West Coast Tomato Inc., Palmetto, Fla., which has production in Immokalee, said tomato growers pay workers well above government regulations and do not mistreat their workers.

“People are free to say what they want to say but the problem is, after a while, the CIW starts to lose credibility because all they do is make these wild charges, but they don’t back them up with any proof,” Spencer said. “We have nothing to gain by mistreating the people who allow us to grow our crops and send them to market.”


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