At least three-dozen Coalition of Immokalee Workers members and supporters protested the new Longboat Key Publix Sunday, Dec. 16, concerning the Lakeland-based chain’s refusal to join the Fair Food Program, in which participating companies pay tomato workers an extra cent for each pound of tomatoes.
A smaller group of supporters protested along Gulf of Mexico Drive Dec. 13, when the store opened.
Sunday’s protest ended without incident, according to a Longboat Key police report, although Publix District Manager Wendy Smith called police to report that protesters had entered the store and were buying sandwiches at the deli. Smith said that the protestors were welcome in the store as long as they didn’t protest on store property, the report states.
A CIW organizer complied with a request from police to move a case of water placed on the sidewalk. Publix and CIW “conducted a peaceful meeting” that ended without incident, according to the report.
Peter Kasden, who was one of several Longboat Key residents to attend the protest, said that he, along with Temple Beth Israel Rabbi Jonathan Katz, another clergyman, a protest organizer and a farm worker, met with Publix representatives.
Kasden, who organized the meeting with Publix representatives, told the Longboat Observer that he learned about the supermarket chain’s way of dealing with calves humanely when he purchased blue veal two days earlier.
“I conveyed to them that it’s really so strange that Publix should take such an interest with raising calves but they can care less about children in Immokalee,” he said.
But Publix maintains that it has consistently viewed the campaign as a labor dispute since approached by the CIW more than three years ago.
A statement on Publix’s website, publix.com, reads, in part:
“We don’t believe ‘just paying the penny’ is the right thing to do — for Publix or our suppliers. Simply stated, Publix is more than willing to pay a penny more per pound or whatever the market price for tomatoes will be — in order to provide product for our customers. However, we will not pay employees of other companies for their labor. That is the responsibility of their employer, and we believe all parties would be better served if appropriate wages were paid by growers to their workers, and we were charged accordingly.”