Ed Crenshaw won’t talk to farmworkers. He’s the CEO of Publix, the largest grocery store chain in the Southeast. The Coalition of Immokolee Workers has had remarkable success in a long struggle for justice for farmworkers. Yum Brands (2005), McDonalds (2007), Burger King (2008), Subway (2008), Whole Foods (2008), Aramark (2010), and most recently Trader Joe’s (2011), are among ten corporations that have signed on to participate in the Fair Food Campaign.
The Fair Food Campaign asks corporations to:
- increase the wages of the workers
- comply with a Code of Conduct that includes zero tolerance for forced labor and systemic child labor
- enable worker to worker education sessions to ensure workers know their new rights
- allow a worker-triggered complaint mechanism
- maintain a system of health and safety volunteers on every farm to ensure that workers have a voice in their working conditions
- make some specific and concrete changes in working conditions that ensure fair compensation
- and provide for the simple comfort of shade and rest during extremely hot work days.
It’s day one of six days of fasting with farmworkers and their supporters at the corporate headquarters of Publix in Lakeland, FL. I’m already impressed with the quiet dignity of workers with whom I cannot communicate using the English I speak or the Spanish they speak. Yet we stand together under the same bright sun and our very presence alongside a busy thoroughfare, announces a firm commitment to seek justice for a workforce whose humanity has been ignored by a system of labor that is fundamentally unjust.
The farmworkers and holding signs that say “You’re human and so am I,” and “I fast today so that my children won’t be hungry tomorrow.” A typical farmworker must pick about 150-160 buckets of tomatoes a day, each bucket weighing about 32 pounds. They don’t have health plans, and often make less than minimum wage. They can sometimes arrive at 4:00a.m. and wait for hours to be hired for the day–hours for which they are not paid, and time spent away from their families.
I like a thick slice of tomato on my burger; but at what price? Ed Crenshaw, sit down and talk to farmworkers. It’s time.
Grace and Peace,
Director, National Council of Churches Poverty Initiative