Advocacy & Activism, Coalition of Immokalee Workers

The Pulse – 4/10/11: Providence Fair Food Protests Supermarket Chain Stop & Shop

From News.WBRU.com, The Pulse – 4/10/11, 10 Apr 2011.

[Providence, RI] — On Friday, an organization called Providence Fair Food organized a protest against Stop & Shop Supermarket. Comprised of civil rights advocates, neighborhood shoppers, and college students, this group pressured the supermarket chain to consider the plight of workers who harvest our tomatoes. This week, on the Pulse, local protestors emphasize the need to fix oppressive working conditions in far-away communities. WBRU’s Tom Jarus has more.

“Stop & Shop, shame on you. Farm workers deserve rights, too.”

That’s the collective voice of Providence Fair Food. On Friday afternoon, the members of this group held a protest outside the Stop & Shop on West River Street in Providence.

“J-U-S-T-I-C-E is what we want. Justice in Immokalee.”

Immokalee, Florida is over one thousand miles from Providence, Rhode Island. It houses Florida’s largest community of farm workers. It also serves as the home of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a community-based organization that represents the Latino, Haitian, and Mayan Indian immigrants who receive low-wages as farm workers. The members of Providence Fair Food consider themselves as Northeastern allies for this Southern group, which hopes to increase the standard of living among farm workers through urging fast food and supermarket chains to pay a penny more for every pound of tomatoes that they purchase.

Member of Providence Fair Food Saskia Brechenmacher described the meager lives currently led by American farm workers.

“Farmer workers in the U.S. have some of the worst paid jobs, really. They are mainly held by immigrants from Latin America, Mexico, Guatemala.”

“Usually, the workers are paid by the number of tomatoes they pick every day. The wages are very low. But there have also been more severe cases of wages not being paid at all, or them having their passports taken away, or just not having access to water, etc.”

Brechenmacher said the protest would pressure Stop & Shop to enact a small, but powerful change in their buying practices.

“You just have to pay a little bit more – one cent more per pound. It’s not a lot for these companies. But it will make a huge difference for the salaries of these workers.”

Before starting their protest, a delegation from Providence Fair Food delivered a letter to the managerial staff at Stop & Shop. Though a manager accepted their letter, he asked the delegation to contact the supermarket’s corporate office with their complaints.

Josie Shagwert is the executive director of Fuerza Laboral, an organization that supports local immigrants and workers. She joined the Providence Fair Food delegation, but thought the managerial staff could have been more helpful.
“When someone says to me, ‘Oh. It’s not my decision.’ Then, I want to know, ‘What are you going to do to put pressure on the people who do make decisions?’ Because we all have power to do that.”

Shagwert said she cares about the quality of the food that she eats, but also about the quality of life on Florida farms. She added that workers deserve fair wages and good working conditions.

“We owe it to the workers who grow our food and the farmers who grow our food.”

For Shagwert, companies such as Stop & Shop could improve the unfair working conditions that migrant workers currently experience without damaging their own business.

“It’s a no-brainer for Stop & Shop. I think paying a penny more per bushel of tomato is not going to break them, but it does break the workers.”

Melissa Solomon is a Stop & Shop customer from Providence. She said the supermarket chain could raise the cost of its tomatoes without upsetting its consumers.

“Nobody is going to stop buying tomatoes because they raise it five cents a pound or ten cents a pound. So they might as well raise the price and let the people have more money.”

But, Bill, a customer from Pawtucket, expressed a mixed opinion on the issue.

“It impacts the shopper, at the cost of buying food. But it also affects the worker.”

Though the management at Stop & Shop failed to respond to the protest organized by Providence Fair Food, the fight for workers rights will continue.

Member of Providence Fair Food Beth Caldwell said these protests draw attention to the people who cultivate the food that we purchase as consumers. She believes public demonstrations ensure that their effort is not overlooked.

“There are people behind this and… from the very top of the supply chain, they need to be treated fairly… It’s everyone’s responsibility – from the consumers, to the corporations, down to the field.”

Read at: News.WBRU.com, The Pulse – 4/10/11, “Providence Fair Food Protests Supermarket Chain Stop & Shop,” 10 Apr 2011.

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