Tomato workers bring out some big names in march against Publix

By Ashley Jeffery, Reporter
Last Updated: Saturday, March 10, 2012

Music played as hundreds marched, rallying for Publix to sign the Coalition of Immokalee’s Fair Food Agreement.

Many of the marchers fasted for six days in hopes of changing the company’s mind about how workers are paid for picking tomato crops.

 “I went hungry so my son and all of our son’s won’t have to be in the future,” worker Lucas Benitez said. “We don’t want our sons to have to suffer the same things that are happening right now in the fields.”

The coalition is asking the company for an extra penny per pound for tomatoes harvested by the workers. Coalition leaders say for four decades, workers have been getting the same low pay, which has been far below minimum wage.

“Farm workers earn 45 cents a bucket for a 32-pound bucket of tomatoes,” said Hon. Laura Safer Espinoza of the Fair Food Standards Council. “That means they have to pick over two tons of tomatoes to make minimum wage daily.”

Some big names even made their way to Lakeland to support the workers.

Ethel Kennedy, the widow of Robert F. Kennedy, spoke against Publix, saying the company has the means to make it all fair.

“People want fairness and social justice,” Ethel Kennedy said.

“Publix can do it,” Robert F. Kennedy Jr. said. “But Publix is digging in its heels and saying, ‘we’re going to stop human rights right here at the door of Publix.’”

A Publix spokesperson said that while the company understands the workers’ frustrations, they won’t be signing the agreement.

“We will pay more for the tomatoes – a penny more, five cents more, 10 cents more, whatever it is the industry wants us to pay – but we can’t pay the farm workers directly,” company spokeswoman Shannon Patten said.

But the workers say that’s not good enough, and they deserve so much more.