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Activists protest outside Publix to push for better farmworker wages

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Posted: Tuesday, November 20, 2012 12:13 am | Updated: 12:23 am, Tue Nov 20, 2012.

Many will be celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday with food, but some Gainesville activists are concerned about the hands that gather that feast.

Members of the Gainesville Interfaith Alliance for Immigrant Justice, along with some students and local religious leaders, protested outside of a Gainesville Publix on Monday to push for better wages for some Florida farmworkers.

The alliance organized the event as part of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers Thanksgiving Week of Action, which aims to persuade Publix Super Markets executives to agree to pay more for tomatoes from Immokalee.

“Their inability to sign a very simple agreement is perpetuating human slavery,” said Larry Green, pastor at Westminster Presbyterian Church.

Protesters waved signs and chanted outside of the Publix located on the corner of 34th Street and University Avenue.

Victor Yengle, a 23-year-old UF economics senior, said the group wants Publix to pay a penny more per pound of tomatoes picked by Immokalee farmworkers.

“This is a 32-pound bucket,” he said, holding a large red container. “Right now, they get 45 cents for every bucket they fill. That rate has been stagnant for the past 30 years, and it hasn’t even been adjusted for inflation.”

Through an information packet, Publix said if the wholesaler raised its prices to improve working conditions in Immokalee, the supermarket would agree to pay more.

“Publix is more than willing to pay a penny more per pound — or whatever the market price for tomatoes will be — in order to provide product to our customers,” a statement released by Publix said. “However, we will not pay employees of other companies directly for their labor.”

Yengle said though Publix remains the biggest priority in terms of businesses signing the Fair Food Program, farmworkers in Immokalee are encouraged that other companies signed the agreement.

“When you talk to the farmworkers, you can tell the program is working,” Yengle said. “They see a new day on the horizon.”

Contact Shelby Webb at [email protected].

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