People picketed outside two major food corporations in Tampa Wednesday to protest farmworker exploitation. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) wants Publix to know, “Publix, escuchar. Estamos en la lucha,” which means, “Publix, listen. We’re in the fight.” CIW has been “en la lucha” for nearly a decade now.
In the case of Wendy’s, it’s been even longer. That fight’s been going on since 2005, when the Alliance for Fair Food first wrote a letter to Wendy’s asking the company to join the Fair Food Program to ensure humane wages and working conditions for those who pick its produce.
“There was no response, but annually and periodically, we would call on them again to join,” Rev. Noelle Damico said. “Meanwhile, four of their competitors have joined — McDonald’s, Yum Brands, Burger King and Subway — leaving them as the odd person out. Even Chipotle has joined for goodness’ sake.”
Damico first got involved with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in 1999, as a staff member for the United Church of Christ. CIW went on to create the Fair Food Program, and Damico became a senior fellow at the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative.
Though the march began in front of a Publix, Damico said it was meant to engage Publix, not boycott the store.
“We have been calling on Publix, quietly, for a long time, but we opened a campaign in 2009,” Damico said. “And, we said explicitly that we needed them to come onboard and ensure human rights in their own backyard.”
Immokalee farmworker Cruz Salucio also noted Publix’s proximity.
“La parte de Publix es ellos estan aqui mismo, saben el problema,” Salucio said. “La parte de Wendy’s, ellos compraron tomates aqui por años aqui en Florida, pero cuando invitamos a ellos a ser parte del programe se ayudaron a Mexico comprar tomates.”
This translates to, “The problem with Publix is they’re right here; they know the problem. The problem with Wendy’s is they bought tomatoes here in Florida for years, but when we asked them to be a part of the program, they instead went back to buying from Mexico.”
Wendy’s officials would not do an interview. In a statement, Wendy’s spokesperson Heidi Schauer said the fast food chain does not believe “joining the Fair Food Program is the only way to act responsibly.” It believes in the goals of any organization that seeks to improve human rights, but does not believe in paying another company’s employees.
Tampa was the last stop on CIW’s two-week Return to Human Rights Tour. So, for now, the group is back in Immokalee to prepare for the next round of the decade-long fight.