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The Daily Tar Heel

Farmworkers protest comes to Cary

CIW farmer Santiago Perez holds signs in protest at the Cary Publix. The workers are fighting for fairer wages and produce prices.
CIW farmer Santiago Perez holds signs in protest at the Cary Publix. The workers are fighting for fairer wages and produce prices.

Kicking off its N.C. Publix Truth Tour Oct. 28 in Asheville, the Florida-based group has traveled statewide to schools, churches and film screenings of “Food Chains,” which documents the Coalition’s relationship with Publix.

“We’re here to demand Publix become a part of the Fair Food program,” said Santiago Perez, a farmworker and member of the Coalition, through the translation of Shelby Mack of the Student/Farmworker Alliance.

Perez said hundreds of thousands of farmworkers are affected by this program, which is designed to keep corporations accountable for upholding rights for the people who grow and pick their food.

The program includes 14 corporations, including Walmart — which was considered one of the Coalition’s biggest wins.

CIW called for the prominent Florida supermarket, Publix, to pay a penny more per pound for their tomatoes, which would double the Immokalee workers’ wages.

“Publix continues to expand its stores into North Carolina, but at the same time they continue to refuse to even sit at the table with farmworkers,” Perez said. “They continue lying to consumers by not revealing the truth of the conditions in which the produce that they sell is picked.”

He said CIW started by challenging Publix in Florida, but has now expanded their campaign to include more states and workers beyond tomato pickers.

Store management and police officers stood to the side of the small protest in Cary — at the Triangle’s only Publix supermarket — to keep the peace.

Waving signs at passersby, the group offered a variety of posters, some tomato-shaped, and a banner with messages like “Respeto” and “How much longer?” But every chant centered around one word: justice.

Eric Solomon, a rabbi and co-chair of the rabbinic human rights group T’ruah, attended the protest with his 12-year-old daughter Meirav.

“Publix refuses to even meet with the Immokalee workers,” he said. “I don’t understand - the right thing to do is have a conversation about it. It’s good for business, even.”

Solomon and other members of T’ruah have traveled to Immokalee to witness workers’ conditions firsthand, which he said really opened his eyes to the injustice of their situation.

“We as Jews stand with our brothers and sisters in solidarity because we believe all forms of oppression are wrong,” he said.

Kim Reynolds, a spokesperson for the Charlotte division of Publix who observed the protest, said the store cannot meet the Coalition’s demands because it is a labor dispute issue, which they can do nothing about.

“We’re more than willing to pay the penny per pound, as long as it’s put in the price that our suppliers charge us,” she said. “We don’t believe that we should be paying workers who are not our own employees.”

Reynolds said the supermarket works closely with the department of labor to protect workers’ rights and holds their suppliers to very high standards.

But Perez said this is not enough.

“For five years, they’ve always told us it was a labor dispute. But if it was truly a labor dispute, we wouldn’t have these partnerships between 14 different corporations,” he said. “They just don’t want to listen to the voices of workers.”

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