Monday, October 18, 2010

SDS - Protest The Grand Opening of a Publix in Gainesville

Publix opened its thirteenth Gainesville branch this past Thursday, and the new store was welcomed by warm weather, blue skies and a group of activists with bullhorns. The demonstrators, coordinated by Gainesville Area SDS, were part of a state-wide movement asking Publix to sit down with representatives from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers to discuss contracts guaranteeing their farm workers a living wage.

The CIW demands that Publix pay its farm workers a penny more per pound of tomatoes, and the corporation has consistently dismissed requests to negotiate. This past week the CIW coordinated labor rights actions in cities across Florida, making it clear that they would not be ignored.

This is not the first time that SDS has worked with the CIW to effect change. Following a series of protests and boycotts facilitated by SDS, a coalition of organizers successfully negotiated a contract with Aramark, the food distributor for the University of Florida. This past February Aramark agreed to improve the wages and working conditions for the farm workers who supplied produce to restaurants and dining halls on campus. Because so much produce in the Florida area comes from Immokalee, the CIW has struggled to represent the interests of immigrant labor for over a decade. The group has uncovered and brought attention several cases of modern day slavery in Immokalee, and works to bring justice to laborers across the Southeast.

On Thursday, SDS helped garner awareness and support for Publix workers with a group of twenty-five students and community members. Activists came out for the morning’s grand opening ceremony, and returned in the evening to reach rush hour traffic. Stationed on the sidewalks outside the store, protesters held signs demanding living wages for farm workers while SDS leaders Dave Schneider and Diana Moreno used their megaphones to lead chants and ask Publix shoppers to bring up the issue to store managers. The group was positively received by customers and passersby, and some cars stopped traffic to shout words of worker solidarity through their windows. The local media in Gainesville documented the day of action, Moreno, explained to a newscaster that neither SDS nor the CIW were trying to demonize Publix, its employees or its customers. The demonstrators, she explained, were just asking the corporation to treat its workers with the dignity and respect they deserve. In its mission statement, Publix commits to being a responsible citizen of its community. SDS and the CIW will ensure they live up to that promise.

-Kelsey Antle

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