Farm workers to Publix: Join Fair Food Program

BETTER CONDITIONS FOR FARM WORKERS: As Publix rapidly expands throughout North Carolina, farmworkers are calling on the supermarket to join the Fair Food Program, a social responsibility program that ensures basic human rights for farm workers in its tomato supply chain.

The opening of a Florida-based Publix supermarket in South Asheville brought with it fresh produce, sensible prices and protesting farm workers.

On May 2, just days after the new store opened, numerous individuals created a picket line along Hendersonville Road across from the market, including many members of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers from Immokalee, Fla., a worker-based human rights organization founded in 1993.

The group of farm workers wants Publix to join its Fair Food Program, a campaign which encourages retail food companies to use their purchasing power to require higher labor standards for farm workers who harvest the produce they buy.

Founded in 2011, Fair Food Agreements have since been created with a dozen of the world’s largest food companies. According to the Fair Food Program, over the last four growing seasons, $15 million in increased wages have been brought to Florida tomato farm workers. Although tomato farms are the only ones targeted now, more produce in different states will soon be targeted by the Fair Food Program.

publix 4
 “Before the Fair Food Program, we were paid very little, oftentimes not even minimum wage, and it was not uncommon to find no bathroom or drinking water on the job,” says Julia de la Cruz, a member of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers who walked the picket line on May 2.

She says workers on large farms in Florida were typically told to keep quiet if they wanted to keep their job, and if you spoke up, you could consider yourself fired. Now, farm worker de la Cruz says harvesters working at farms under the Fair Food Agreements are protected.

“Rather than [being] seen as tools in the field, we are seen as human beings and treated with dignity,” she says.

The program works by requiring participating buyers to only purchase tomatoes from growers who comply with the Fair Food Code of Conduct. This includes required time clocks, health and safety protections and a zero-tolerance policy for slavery and sexual harassment.

Participating corporations also pay a penny-per-pound” premium when buying tomatoes, which is passed down through the supply chain and paid out to workers by their employers. The Fair Food Standards Council oversees all complaints against substandard farm practices, and is the only dedicated third-party monitoring organization of its kind in agriculture in the United States of America.

publix 2

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers has successfully signed up 13 tomato retailers into the Fair Food Program, including McDonalds, Taco Bell and Publix competitors Fresh Market, Walmart, Whole Foods and Trader Joes. They say they have been unable to get Publix or Wendy’s to enter into an agreement.

Publix calls the matter a labor dispute at its core. The company argues that since growers distribute the “penny-per-pound” premium to the workers, entering into the agreement would effectively subsidize workers who are picking tomatoes for a pool of grocery stores and restaurants, not solely Publix.

Kim Reynolds, media and community relations manager for Publix, responded via email regarding the protest in Asheville.publix 6

“We have always believed our food should be brought to market in a fair and sustainable way and that farm workers should receive fair wages and be treated with dignity and respect. The CIW’s Fair Food Campaign makes it sound like Publix is unwilling to pay a penny more per pound of tomatoes, which is not true. We have publicly and repeatedly offered to pay the extra penny per pound and more,” she wrote.
“To give workers better wages, we will gladly pay more for tomatoes if our suppliers will put that penny in the price they charge to us. However, it is not appropriate for Publix to pay another company’s workers directly. At its core, this is a labor dispute. It is the Department of Labor’s role to enforce the laws that protect workers’ rights.”

Joe Parker, an activist with the Alliance for Fair Food, says Publix needs to join the collaboration.

“This is not a labor dispute, but a collaboration between workers, farmers and retailers. Publix needs to join something that’s already in motion,” he says.

publix 5

Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

About Pat Barcas
Pat is a photojournalist and writer who moved to Asheville in 2014. He previously worked for a labor and social rights advocacy newspaper in Chicago. Email him at Follow me @pbarcas

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

12 thoughts on “Farm workers to Publix: Join Fair Food Program

  1. john

    Go away protesters…Asheville has enough protesters already. You are not even from this town. All your doing is raising cost to the consumer. And it is absolutely true that they don’t pick for just publix they pick for a bunch of companies and then the companies decide what quality of pick they want

    • Jim

      They come here to protest because Asheville is a joke. Old liberals think that this is somehow conducive to bettering their society but they don’t get that many of these protest directly hinder their own children and grand children. They sell out their own blood for ideology and buddy if that isn’t insanity I don’t know what is. But they are ignorant and totally out of touch with what 40 miilion illegals do and how it lowers wages and the standard of living for everyone.

  2. Kelly

    The penny-a-pound is one thing, but requiring growers to have a “zero-tolerance policy for slavery and sexual harassment” is another. “Zero-tolerance policy for slavery” in 2015? I’m speechless.

    • Jim

      LOL. So does this mean the old liberals who shop at Publix support slavery? Yep, but their slavery is the one where they allow illegals into the nation that kills wages and makes the US citizen a slave too. It’s the one where the typical Asheville liberal employs illegals at minimum wages to do their landscaping along with all the rich liberals here that are in the real estate industry that use illegals to do their rehabs and construction at LOW WAGES. And then turn around and tell us all that these jobs are one’s that Americans simply won’t do. LOL. So all these liberals that support these protests by illegals must think they are fighting for equality and fairness but in all reality are not only the cause of it, but are pretty good at taking advantage of it too. LOL.

  3. Jim

    LOL, these people are illegal and here protesting. The left is selling you out folks all the while pretending to share in your worries. LOL, LOL. Come on crash.

    The illegal thieves should go back and protest their native governments but they know they’d end up beaten at the least and dead at the most. And that idiot traitor in the oval office should be in prison right now.

  4. James

    These spoiled trustafarian protesters should be thanking Publix for coming to Asheville and providing jobs for the local economy. The ungratefulness Corporate America receives from these intolerant people is astonishing.

  5. voncile

    Just coming into this conversation. I am urging Publix to stand strong on their resolve not to get tangled up with what is clearly a situation between the ‘worker’ and their ’employer’, the farmer who is hiring them. We already have Obama’s National Labor Relations Board to handle their so called ‘labor disputes’. Let them go there. They (the NLRB) doesn’t seem to mind sticking their noises into everyone’s business anyway.

  6. voncile

    Maybe Julia de la Cruz should go back to the hell hole country that she is from. See how ‘fair’ she gets treated there!!
    See if she has the balls to complain. She needs to get down on her knees and kiss the ground she is standing on that she is even
    allowed to be in America and stop complaining.

  7. Jonas

    did any of you actually read the article or did you just look at the pictures and stick to whatever redneck bias you’ve grown up with?

  8. Beth

    Maybe all of you criticizing the protesters need to watch “Food Chains” on Netflix. If it doesn’t make you cry at some point, you have no soul. I agree wholeheartedly that Publix needs to pay the penny more per pound. It wouldn’t hurt their bottom line at all to help the people who pick the food we eat!!! I will not be back to Publix in my support of the CIW (until they start talking to the CIW and join Fair Food). Until you know what you are talking about, please don’t sound ignorant by just spouting off!!! Thank goodness Bernie Sanders is running for President!!! He gets his hands dirty trying to help make this world a better place for all!!! (including the CIW)

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.