Protesters march outside Phenix City supermarket - WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather & Sports

Protesters march outside Phenix City supermarket

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PHENIX CITY, AL (WTVM) -

Picketers marched on Summerville Road in Phenix City Sunday in the hopes of encouraging Publix Supermarkets to join their fight against low wages for Florida farm workers, specifically, tomato pickers.

The group is demanding that the supermarket pay an additional penny every time they buy a pound of tomatoes from a Florida farm.  That penny would then go to a group called the Coalition of Imokalee Workers, which bypasses the growers and distributes money directly to employees of the farm as part of something they call the Fair Food Program. 

With the help of a translator, the coalition spokesman, Oscar Oztoy, said he works as a tomato picker in Florida and described his income as below poverty-level.  He said wages for his job have not risen in thirty years.  And on top of his regular shifts, he can expect to spend three hours in a parking lot waiting to be rounded up every morning.  

So if their complaints are with farms, why are they protesting at the supermarket?  These activists hope that by putting pressure on the stores, it will indirectly affect the growers they buy from.  But Publix says that's not their problem.  They say that by giving money to this fund, Publix would essentially be paying for the employees of a different company. 

Publix representative, Brenda Reid, said, "We do a great job with monitoring our suppliers, making sure that they're providing quality products, safe work conditions, and that's where we stand.  If there are labor disputes, then I believe that is something they should take up with the growers."

Publix believes that the cost of hiring tomato pickers should only be passed on to the supermarkets in the form of tomato prices, and not as a separate fee.

Organizers said they don't hold farms solely accountable for working conditions they describe as unfair.  They claim supermarkets share responsibility due to the large volume of tomatoes they purchase and the influence they have on that industry.  They admit that Publix is not the only target of their protests and that they are bringing their complaints to nearly every major supermarket in the country.

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