On Saturday, November 21st, over 65 folks gathered for the “Uniting for Fair Food” national day of action calling on Wendy’s and Publix to join the Fair Food Program (FFP) and move away from a model of charity to one of self-determination for workers. Orlando community members, congregates from First Unitarian of Orlando (1U), University Unitarian Universalist Society (UUUS), and Park Lake Presbyterian, and many others gathered for the early morning action held outside of the Lake Eola Publix in downtown Orlando. Although the streets were quiet at first, soon enough Fair Food allies made their voices heard letting Publix know we will not let up pressure until an agreement has been made with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW).
The Publix campaign has been going on for 6 strenuous years and the CIW has used different strategies to get Publix to sign onto the Fair Food Program from hundreds of demonstrations across the southeastern United States to the Florida United Methodist conference passing a resolution stating they want Publix to join the FFP. Yet Publix continues to refuse to have any part of the slave-like conditions that exist in their supply chain. One of their favorite rhetorical tactics to use when asked why they won’t join is stating that they will not pay the employees of other companies. At first this seems like a sound argument, until you begin to deconstruct how supply chains work. With Publix having total market control, being that it is at the TOP of the supply chain, inevitably they set the prices for the produce they purchase as well as paying out to the long line of workers that allow for that produce to arrive in their grocery stores. Thus, Publix is continually paying out workers of other companies, just not necessarily from the Publix payroll.
In Florida, Fair Food allies and farm worker supporters are all too familiar with the antics of Publix. Something as simple as paying a penny more per pound for tomatoes and purchasing from growers that instill a basic code of ethics on their farms is not too far fetched of an idea for a supermarket that prides itself on “Doing the Right Thing” and never letting a profit get in between such. However, we are far from George Jenkins’, the founder of Publix, legacy and it is eminent that Publix corporate giants refuse to even investigate the farms they purchase from because how could they ever do wrong. Well Publix, I hate to say this but you are doing wrong. You are doing wrong to your customers by not hearing their concerns. You are doing wrong to your shareholders by not looking into your supply chain with a more thorough lens. You are doing wrong to your brand by not admitting that even great supermarkets that strive on impeccable customer service can have flaws in their system. No everybody is perfect, and Publix, you are far from it. So hopefully in due time you can admit your wrongs and we can all move on. Until then, expect Fair Food allies, community members, and churches of all faiths to continue to ask, “When will you join the Fair Food program?”