Farmworkers, allies to march in Palm Beach on Saturday
Farmworkers and their allies are expected to return to Palm Beach on Saturday to promote what they say is the success of the Fair Food Program and to call on food retailers Wendy's, Publix and Kroger to join the program.
Led by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and representatives of the Fair Food Program, Saturday's gathering is expected to mark the end of a five-day march that began Tuesday in Pahokee in far western Palm Beach County.
Organizers in previous years have focused on resident and Wendy's Board Chairman Nelson Peltz as their target audience.
In Palm Beach, marchers will meet at Lake Drive Park for a rally scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m. They expect to leave the park at about 12:30 p.m. and walk to Bradley Park, where the program will wrap up, organizers said.
The Fair Food Program is "a growing partnership" among farmworkers, farmers and major retailers — including companies such as McDonald’s, Whole Foods and food service firm Compass Group — that uses brands' "purchasing power to bring about long-overdue labor reforms on the farms where they buy their produce," organizers said.
More:Farmworkers to march in Palm Beach on Saturday; target is Wendy's board chair
The Fair Food Program has helped to transform Florida’s tomato industry from what federal prosecutors dubbed “ground zero for modern day slavery” before the program’s launch in 2011, organizers said.
“The changes in farmworkers’ lives brought about by the Fair Food Program over the past decade have been nothing short of remarkable,” Lupe Gonzalo, a former farmworker and leader of the the program’s worker-to-worker education team, said in a prepared statement.
“Over 80% of farmworker women in this country report experiencing sexual harassment and assault, but not on Fair Food Program farms. Forced labor prosecutions are surging in the South today, but not on Fair Food Program farms. And systemic wage theft, dangerous working conditions, and harsh verbal abuse are the daily bread of tens of thousands of farmworkers from here to California, but not on Fair Food Program farms,”
More:Farmworkers protest for end to 'slavery in the fields,' target Wendy's chairman
Congresswoman Lois Frankel and attorney Kerry Kennedy are scheduled to speak during the rally at Lake Drive Park, organizers said.
Kennedy is the daughter of the late Robert F. Kennedy and Ethel Skakel Kennedy. Kerry Kennedy's mother attended a similar march organized by the group in 2016, the year the Coalition of Immokalee Workers' campaign was targeting Wendy's in Palm Beach.
That march generated controversy because of geographic limits the town had set. In the end, about 500 people protested through town streets on March 12, 2016, and the town later paid more than $160,000 in attorneys' fees and costs after a federal lawsuit filed by the march organizers.
Publix Media Relations Manager Lindsey Willis told the Daily News on Tuesday that: "We appreciate the work achieved in order to get product off the land and on our customers’ tables. We value the relationships along the path from 'farm to fork' and realize it takes a lot of people, each providing a great service."
In an emailed statement, she said: "Publix remains the focus of a campaign by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) who seeks to pressure us to become involved in the employment relationship between Florida farmers who grow tomatoes and the farmworkers they employ to harvest their product.
"Since first approached by the CIW in 2009, we have consistently viewed this issue as a labor dispute, and our position remains the same today."
In a statement emailed to the Daily News, Wendy's said Tuesday that it "does not participate in the Fair Food Program because there is no nexus between the program and our supply chain. Since 2019, Wendy’s has sourced our North American tomato supply exclusively from indoor, hydroponic greenhouse farms, while the Fair Food Program predominantly operates in outdoor, conventional tomato growing environments."
Wendy’s said it has an established Supplier Code of Conduct that applies to its significant suppliers and requires "third-party reviews related to the human rights and labor practices for suppliers of certain hand-harvested, whole, fresh produce such as tomatoes.
"The idea that joining the Fair Food Program, and purchasing field-grown, commodity tomatoes, is the only way that Wendy’s can demonstrate responsibility in our supply chain is not true."
The organizers of Saturday's event say on farms beyond the Fair Food Program’s protections, "modern-day slavery is on the rise in Florida and across the country, growing in both scale and brutality."
“If the stark contrast between the humane conditions on Fair Food Program farms and the harsh conditions on farms beyond the program’s protections has taught us anything, it’s that farm labor abuse is a horrible problem, but it’s a problem with a simple solution: Join the Fair Food program,” Lucas Benitez, a co-founder of the coalition and of the Fair Food Program, said in a prepared statement.
Gerardo Reyez Chavez, a longtime member of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, told the Daily News that Publix, Kroger and Wendy's are doing nothing to prevent abuse from happening in their supply chain.
He said the Fair Food Program is a proven solution and the goal is to expand by having the three companies join. "They have the power to do something," Chavez said.
Palm Beach Police spokesman Capt. Will Rothrock said no full road closures are planned during Saturday's march but motorists should expect some impacts on Friday and Saturday.
From 4 to 7 p.m. Friday, he said, there will intermittent traffic congestion on South Lake Drive and the southernmost eastbound lane of the Royal Park Bridge.
From 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Rothrock said, there will be partial lane closures and intermittent traffic congestion as the marchers travel from Lake Drive Park to Bradley Park.
Areas near both parks will be affected as well as the following streets: South Lake Drive, Peruvian Avenue, Coconut Row, Worth Avenue, South County Road and Sunset Avenue.
Carol Rose is a journalist at the Palm Beach Daily News, part of the USA TODAY Florida Network. You can reach her at email@example.com. Help support our journalism. Subscribe today.
This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Daily News: Farmworkers, allies to march in Palm Beach on Saturday