By Yaissy Solis
After pedaling 200 miles—under sunshine and rain—members of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) arrived at the Publix Super Markets headquarters to ask Ed Crenshaw, CEO of Publix, to see first-hand the conditions farm workers face in the fields.
The 10-day bike ride from Immokalee to Lakeland began on Aug. 27 and ended on Sept. 6 around noon.
For more than two years, members of the CIW have tried to convince Publix to join its Campaign for Fair Food by paying a premium of one penny more per pound for its tomatoes.
The raise in price would give farm workers a living wage and more financial freedom to feed their families, according to the CIW’s website.
Crenshaw was not able to meet with the bicyclists. He sent someone from his public relations department to collect petitions and other materials for him.
Publix states that it is not responsible for paying employees of other companies, and that the CIW should report its complaints to the employers of the farm workers, according to a press release on the company’s website.
Oscar Otzoy, an Immokalee farm worker and one of the six bikers, said the coalition only brought a verbal invitation for Crenshaw to witness the harsh conditions of the Immokalee fields.
“He has not accepted our invitation,” Otzoy said. “I feel rejected as a human.”
Major tomato retailers and food corporations—including McDonald’s, Whole Foods and Aramark—have reached agreements with the CIW in the past.
“We thought Crenshaw was going to do the right thing,” Otzoy said. “But he didn’t even show his face.”
About 50 supporters from various organizations throughout Florida met the coalition at the Florida-based supermarket’s headquarters.
Rev. Eve MacMaster, pastor of Emmanuel Mennunite Church in Gainesville, brought a letter signed by 31 local clergy members, “to remind Publix of their responsibilities to provide all workers with decent wages and working conditions.”
“These farm workers are amongst the poorest paid and the most abused in America,” she said.
Gainesville’s Interfaith Alliance for Immigrant Justice delivered a poster signed by community members that says they are willing to pay one more penny per pound.
Brianna Ramos, a UF freshman, said she was shocked to see Crenshaw ignore the farm workers.
“It is unfair,” she said.
Victor Yengle, a UF economics junior, said the “pilgrimage to publix” wasn’t entirely a defeat for the CIW and its supporters.
“It’s great to see all of these community leaders united,” he said.
The CIW plans to continue its quest to persuade Publix to join the Fair Food Program, said Otzoy.
“We as farm workers will not allow this,” he said. “We are going to continue to struggle on.”