Publix refuses to pay farmworkers extra penny a pound

Protestors camp out across the street from a Publix on US 41 on Oct. 17. Photo courtesy of naplesnews.com

A St. Petersburg Times article published today details the Publix super market chain’s refusal to join forces with other corporations in Florida that put pressure on tomato farm owners to pay farmworkers an extra cent a pound.

The farmworkers who pick the tomatoes in Florida fields that Publix sells by the ton make an average of 45 cents for every 32-pound bucket, a wage that has stayed essentially flat for a generation.

Publix won’t join a campaign to pay farmworkers just an extra penny per pound, even though its participation would put real pressure on Florida tomato growers to better farmworkers’ lives.

…Corporate giants such as Yum Brands Inc., which includes Taco Bell and Pizza Hut; McDonald’s Corp.; Subway; Burger King; and the Whole Foods supermarket chain have agreed to pay an extra penny per pound for tomatoes — with most agreeing to an extra 1.5 cents per pound to cover program administrative expenses — and buy from growers who will work with the program.

But not Publix.

Publix has taken a “talk to the hand” approach. Corporate spokeswoman Shannon Patten says that the company won’t get involved in “a labor dispute between the farmworker and farmer.”

Even after it was reported that two of the farms Publix has bought tomatoes from, Pacific Tomato Growers and Six L’s, used bosses who were convicted of enslaving farmworkers from Mexico and Guatemala — holding them captive and brutalizing them — Publix does little more than shrug.

Patten says “nobody’s in favor of slavery,” as if this absolves the company of its duty to reject suppliers who employ shockingly abusive labor tactics.

Publix uses its collective buying power to negotiate low tomato prices with growers but refuses to unleash some of that corporate might to help workers who toil day after day in the withering Florida sun for the same per-bucket wage their parents earned.

We all remember how many years it took for Taco Bell to join forces and pay up an extra cent to the tomato farmworkers. The coporation was seen as greedy and exploitative. I can even remember boycotting Taco Bell as a child. Publix can afford to pay one extra cent that would dramatically improve the lives of these farmworkers. Especially during the holiday season, it just makes this ubiquitous super market corporation look like a Scrooge.

What do you think, folks? Is it time for Publix to get with it and pony up a penny a pound?

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