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Churchwide Gathering of Presbyterian Women
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protester at publix

More than 100 women went to Publix to pray and demonstrate for fair pay and working conditions for farmworkers. Photo by Laura Lee.

Food justice moves from plenary to community

By Blair Moorhead

Just one cent. One cent more per pound of tomatoes can make the difference between feeding a family and going hungry for workers in Florida’s tomato fields. More than 100 Presbyterian Women joined the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), a local community-based farmworker organization, on Saturday morning to challenge Publix to hear the voices of workers and pay at least a net penny more per pound for tomatoes. This pray-in wanted something that seems so basic—a small increase in farmworkers’ wages and a commitment to fair working conditions, including zero tolerance for modern day slavery.

Carrying signs reading “Publix, Love thy Neighbor” and “End Slavery in the Fields,” women prayed and sang for fair wages outside the store. They stood on behalf of sisters and brothers whose pay has not been raised in decades, who face violence and sexual harassment in the fields, and in extreme cases modern slavery. (The CIW has helped the US Department of Justice and FBI investigate and successfully prosecute seven cases of slavery and free more than 1,200 workers.)

farmworker mother and son

Sylvia Perez (a farmworker with Coalition for Immokalee Workers) and her son Elias joined the group demonstrating at Publix. Photo by Laura Lee.

A delegation of about 12 “disciples,” spoke with the manager of the store. Sylvia Perez of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and her seven-year-old son, Elias, were part of the delegation, along with women who shop at Publix regularly. Before the meeting, all women at the action prayed for and charged the smaller group.

The smaller group met with the manager to deliver more than 600 postcards signed by Gathering attendees insisting Publix join the CIW’s Fair Food Program, as well as a 6' x 3.5' petition written by farmworker and consumer mothers united for fair food. Several in the delegation said that one cent per pound was a price they are happy to pay for workers’ rights.

After receiving the Gathering’s postcards and petition politely, the manager noted that Publix doesn’t get involved in labor disputes. But advocates quickly responded that it is not a labor dispute because 90 percent of growers are already working with the Fair Food Program. Further, 10 of the largest food retail corporations (like McDonald’s and Aramark), as well as Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, already support the Fair Food Program.

Jean Cooley, pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Lakeland, Florida, prayed for the Campaign for Fair Food and for the store manager as he stood near the group that held hands in a circle by the store entrance. She prayed to God for Publix executives, that “hearts may be moved . . . to see how justice can roll down like waters in a living stream.”

“Go home and share this message with other consumer mothers,” Sylvia Perez of CIW encouraged those gathered. “And I will do the same with other farmer mothers.” The story of PW’s action at Publix will be shared with workers. You too can share the story of the fight for food justice. Learn more about the Campaign for Fair Food and how you can get involved in moving grocery chains to join the Fair Food Program.

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