TAMPA — A five-day Florida farmworker protest wrapped up Saturday with a convergence of protests at several local Publix supermarkets.
Beginning Friday, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers marched in protest of Publix officials' decision not to pay a penny-a-pound premium that would have been added to tomato field workers' paychecks. One of the demonstrations stopped about 2 p.m. Saturday beside the store at 1313 S Dale Mabry Highway. A couple of hundred participants marched along the road, waving signs and encouraging drivers to honk in support.
"It's the right thing to do," said protester Linda Eajkowsky, 51, a physical therapist from Fort Lauderdale. "We all benefit from their labor."
"This is how it starts. It's a grass roots effort," said another marcher, 20-year-old Edison State College student Rodrigo Palacios from Naples.
Not long after protesters arrived at the store, a band on a trailer-toted stage struck up bongos and acoustic guitars, and a mass of people bopped to the music. Hands and protest signs high in the air, they clapped and stomped their feet while others stopped to snap photos.
A good distance away, Publix spokeswoman Shannon Patten said the rally hadn't disrupted normal business. A few people stopped their carts in the parking lot to gawk or ask Patten what was going on, but nobody seemed deterred from shopping. "They know who we are," Patten said of the customers. "And they thank us for who we are."
Patten said Publix would stand firm against the penny premium. As the company sees it, the growers' employers should be responsible for their wages, not the stores.
"Put it in the price," Patten said. "As a retailer, we are going to pay market value for our goods."
The marchers numbered more than 1,000 once participants at three Publix stores came together at the end of the day, said event organizer Sean Sellers.