Attention, supermarket fetishists: The Publix on Aloma Avenue in Winter Park is back. Bigger, better, and reeking of barbecued ribs, the store garnered a respectable crowd for its grand re-opening this evening – including about 30 people protesting outside.
The demonstrators were mostly students, calling out Publix for not agreeing to the demands of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers
, a collective of migrant laborers based in southwest Florida who pick the majority of the tomatoes bought by the nation's food industry during the winter months. “What we’re arguing for is nothing radical,” said Carlos Hierro of the Youth and Young Adult Network of the National Farmworker Ministry. “We want Publix to live up to the ethical business practices they espouse.”
The C.I.W. and its allies want Publix, among other things, to pay an extra penny per pound of tomatoes picked by the workers to alleviate their “sub-poverty” wages. (Currently, the average piece rate for a 32-pound bucket of tomatoes is 50 cents.) If you think you know who David and Goliath are in this story, think again: in the past five years, the C.I.W. has persuaded virtually the entire fast-food industry
, three of the nation’s largest food-service providers, and just days ago
, the Florida Tomato Grower’s Exchange into paying out that extra cent per pound. (OW
will report more on the coalition and its efforts early next month.)
At the beginning of the event, a delegation from the protest met with a Publix manager inside, and if not for some T-shirts twisting the Publix logo to spell out “Poverty,” the exchange could have easily been used for a Publix commercial.
After joshing around with the manager inside, the delegation returned to the street to be angry again. Between chants, Interfaith Action organizer Jordan Buckley sniped at Publix’s fair-trade coffee. “While Publix is willing to pay a slight premium to lift wages abroad, they refuse to do the same in their home state,” he said.
The sole counter-protester, a man flicking off the crowd from his black Tacoma, answered Buckley's analysis with his own measured critique: "Fuck you –poverty's good!" One student witness said the middle-fingerer looked like a "Wall Street banker," though we think he just made an educated guess.