Wendy’s and Publix are two of the largest corporations with significant presences in the southeast of the United States who profit off of the exploited labor of farm workers. They are also two of the largest corporations in the southeast who have not signed the Coalition of Immokalee Worker (CIW)’s Fair Food Program despite frequent pressure from the CIW, their supporters, and concerned consumers.
On Sunday February 15th five YAYAs met at the Wendy’s off East Colonial. The plan for the day was to rally at Wendy’s, drop off a letter in support of the CIW and the fair food campaign to the manager, and explain to them why we, as consumers and supporters of farm worker justice, believe they should sign the agreement. Then march the short distance to the nearby Publix and do the same. With a limited turnout we decided to do letter deliveries to on-duty managers and explain YAYA-NFWM’s position on the Fair Food program.
Cristina volunteered to speak to the Wendy’s manager, and so she led the group inside and gave an excellent introduction of who we were and why we were there. The manager had never heard of the CIW or the fair food agreement, which shows that they are maybe not being pressured enough! The manager there was very courteous and seemed interested in the information we had on why this agreement was important for farm workers of Immokalee. We left with a promise that the letter would be “passed up the chain.”
As we started our march to Publix Jake from the Alliance of Fair Food (AFF), an ally network for the CIW, joined our delegation bringing extra support. Before we got there I volunteered to speak to the manager. As we got closer it became clear that something was off. I was leading the group and saw an official looking employee standing guard outside the doors. This employee was definitely staring at us as we approached. When we got close enough to greet each other, the employee told us that there was a representative there to speak with us. Next thing we know we are pulled aside by a man in a suit who asked us if we are planning an action there today. I responded with, “No we were just hoping to speak with a manager and deliver this letter to them.” With that he told us that he would speak to the manager and see if he could arrange a meeting. He also made sure to tell us that we were not allowed to enter Publix property. We were off to a nice hostile start.
The representative returned shortly and told us we could meet the manager outside and speak for 5 minutes, but under no circumstances would we be able to take pictures, video, or record any audio of the meeting. We agreed and were escorted to the manager. I introduced the group and myself and explained why we were there. I told the manager that as a Publix consumer I believe that Publix should be concerned about the working conditions of all the workers in their supply chain. Publix should take the appropriate measures to ensure that farm workers harvesting their produce are ensured fair wages and the basic protections afforded to Publix employees, protections that farm workers are specifically excluded from (see Labor Laws). His only response was that he would “pass it along”. The group wasn’t satisfied with that answer, and other members chimed in with their own questions and comments. The response, “I’ll pass it along” was the only thing said by the manager in response, and was said multiple times.
It was clear that Publix knew about the planned action, and wanted to head it off as much as possible. The representative was there to make sure the action was as least disruptive as possible, and to make sure the manager did not engage with us in any meaningful way. As a supermarket that receives much of its profit from produce, Publix is afraid of a consumer base that is aware of and concerned about the working conditions of farm workers. The way they have responded to the actions of the CIW and their supporters shows that conditions farm workers face are not high concerns corporate giant, Publix.
I think the letter deliveries were successful in terms of keeping the pressure on Wendy’s and Publix in continuing the pressure on such large corporations but I can’t help and wonder if there are better methods of turning up the pressure a corporation like Publix, one that claims to care about it’s workers and community, to stand behind it’s own supposed ideals. As of now, we look forward to the mass mobilization from across the country for CIW Parade & Concert in St. Petersburg on Saturday, March 21! Make sure to join us!