Florida farmworkers end fast calling for fair prices, better conditions
Published: March 15, 2012
LAKELAND, Fla. (CNS) -- Ethel Kennedy said showing support for 61 farmworkers coming off a six-day fast was a matter of charity and justice. The widow of Sen. Robert Kennedy spoke to a reporter as she broke a loaf of bread and began distributing it to the farmworkers and their nearly 1,000 supporters who were in Lakeland to urge officials of a supermarket chain based there to the needs of those who toil in the fields to pick the produce sold in their stores. It was March 10, the 44th anniversary of Cesar Chavez's breaking his justice fast for the migrant workers of California. Kennedy, who was present at the 1968 event, now joined the farmworkers of Florida gathered at the headquarters of Publix Supermarkets Inc. in Lakeland. "It's an honor to come here," Kennedy said in an interview. "We're supposed to lead lives of charity, but we're lacking in justice. The Jenkins family needs to know that there are people suffering and there are people willing to speak out." She was referring to the family of George W. Jenkins, founder of Publix, an employee-owned supermarket chain. Led by Lucas Benitez, founder and director of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, the group had been fasting since March 5 to call attention to what organizers say is a refusal by officials of the Publix supermarket chain to discuss the need for fair wages and safe and humane conditions for workers in the fields. The coalition, through its Campaign for Fair Food, is calling for more human wages a penny-per-pound increase in what farmworkers are paid for tomatoes and other crops they pick. The campaign has successfully brought major restaurants, 90 percent of Florida tomato growers and retailers such as Whole Foods and Trader Joe's to sign an agreement for a just wage and decent working conditions. For Publix's part, the company -- which describes itself as "the largest and fastest-growing employee-owned supermarket chain in the United States" -- said the coalition's complaints should be addressed with the employers of the workers, not with retailers and their customers."
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