Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Hundreds show up in Tampa to support tomato workers in Publix battle

TAMPA — The signs demanding "fair food now," and "justicia para los campesinos" looked worn.

But their owners pulled them out again Friday because their fight is not done. Though eight companies have signed the Coalition of Immokalee Workers' agreement to pay tomato pickers an extra penny per pound, there are thousands of other companies that buy tomatoes.

On Friday, their fight was against Publix.

"What do we want? Jus-tice! When do we want it? Now!"

The Rev. Charles Mckenzie, of St. Petersburg, led a crowd of 300 in a morning rally at Tampa's Joe Chillura Courthouse Square.

"Will we give in? No! Will we stop? No! And their walls will come tumbling down!"

The coalition is best known for waging a four-year boycott against Taco Bell until the company agreed to pay tomato pickers a penny more per pound. They've also persuaded McDonald's and Burger King to sign.

Publix spokeswoman Shannon Patten said the company believes it is a labor issue between tomato suppliers and the pickers.

But the coalition and other activists at Friday's march disagreed.

Lucas Benitez, one of the coalition's founders, said that as long as Publix buys tomatoes at market prices, it's supporting farmworker exploitation.

Tomato pickers are paid 1.2 cents per pound now, so the extra penny would almost double their wages. The median income for a farmworker is between $2,500 and $5,000, a U.S. Department of Labor survey found.

"Today, we're going to tell Publix that it's time to end the poverty facing farmworkers," he said through a translator. "We will intensify as long as Publix does not come to the table."

A diverse crowd marched from downtown Tampa to the Publix at Busch Boulevard and 56th Street. Seasoned protesters led chants, and new marchers followed along. College students drove in from Kansas, mothers showed up with strollers and children who had been signed out of school led the march.

Candice Perez, 16, walked with her mother, Silvia Perez, a staff member of the coalition.

"We want Publix to know kids are involved," Candice Perez said. "It's also kids who want change for their parents."

That's what makes Ken Brown passionate. Brown, 45, flew in from Connecticut to help lead the event. He said fighting for fair wages is important, but he's most passionate about supporting migrant children who live in poor conditions.

After several speeches and prayers, the group headed out behind a flatbed truck with speakers that blared salsa, rap and Mexican folk music. Tambourines, chants and the sirens from police escort motorcycles added to the cacophony that drew the attention of people finishing up their workweek in downtown.

But the group also wants Publix's attention. They'll march from Plant City to Publix's headquarters in Lakeland today, and they'll picket and hold a rally in Lakeland on Sunday.

Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at or (813) 226-3433.

Karen Lopez, 25, offers incense Friday in a traditional Aztec ceremony at the Publix on Busch Boulevard. She supports the farmworkers’ weekend march to Lakeland.


Karen Lopez, 25, offers incense Friday in a traditional Aztec ceremony at the Publix on Busch Boulevard. She supports the farmworkers’ weekend march to Lakeland.

Hundreds show up in Tampa to support tomato workers in Publix battle 04/16/10 [Last modified: Saturday, April 17, 2010 12:10am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Observations from a liberal, gay, Latino, feminist Florida House freshman


    State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando,  rocked the Florida LGBTA Democratic Caucus dinner at Tallahassee's Hotel Duval Satursday night with his unabashedly liberal and passionate take on the myriad issues he said are key to LGBTQ Floridians. Among them: Access to guns, Reproductive rights, home …

    Carlos G. Smith
  2. Delta Sigma Theta honors outgoing national president

    Human Interest

    During her four years as national president of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., Paulette Walker said she always focused on the comma between "Sorority" and "Inc."

    Paulette Walker, the former director of undergraduate programs and internship in the College of Education at the University of South Florida, will be honored on Saturday for her leadership in the Delta Sigma Theta sorority.
  3. 10 sailors missing, 5 hurt in collision of USS John S. McCain

    SEOUL —Ten U.S. Navy sailors are missing and five have been injured after the USS John S. McCain destroyer collided with an oil tanker near Singapore early Monday morning.

    In this Jan. 22, 2017, photo provided by U.S. Navy, the USS John S. McCain patrols in the South China Sea while supporting security efforts in the region. The guided-missile destroyer collided with a merchant ship on Monday, Aug. 21, in waters east of Singapore and the Straits of Malacca. Ten sailors were missing, and five were injured, the Navy said. [James Vazquez/U.S. Navy via AP]
  4. Pasco County Fire Rescue fighting a two-alarm fire started by an explosion


    Two houses are on fire and one victim has been critically burned and taken to a trauma center following an explosion at a home at 8652 Velvet Dr, in Port Richey.

  5. Rays see the Blake Snell they've been waiting for in win over Mariners

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — It was a one-run game Sunday when the Mariners' Robinson Cano singled with one out in the seventh inning, bringing the dangerous Nelson Cruz to the plate.

    Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Blake Snell (4) throwing in the third inning of the game between the Seattle Mariners and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Sunday, Aug. 20, 2017.