Standing on the Side of Love with Coalition of Immokalee Workers
Nearly a thousand people from across the Northeast gathered on Sunday, February 27th, despite the snow and cold, for a joyous, two-mile march through downtown Boston to demand that Stop & Shop work with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. CIW wants Ahold USA, the company that owns Stop & Shop, to do its part to improve wages and working conditions in Florida’s tomato fields.
The call was for Stop & Shop, to join with Whole Foods, McDonald’s, Taco Bell, and other food industry leaders by signing on to the Fair Food Code of Conduct and to pay an additional penny per pound for tomatoes. If the supermarket industry fails to pay into the penny-per-pound program and refuses to condition its purchases on the Fair Food principles recently agreed to by CIW and the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange, the gains made thus far will be undermined.
UUs voted at our 2008 General Assembly to support CIW’s Fair Food Campaign. A group from First Parish Cambridge UU, Community Church Boston UU, and the Harvard UU Ministry Students came together with Standing on the Side of Love placards and signs in support of the campaign at the march and rally.
In the weeks leading up to the march, CIW leaders visited area congregations and met with the UU Ministry for Earth (UUMFE) board on the day before the march. UUMFE is interested in making connections with CIW as part of their environmental justice work and the UUA’s Congregational Study Action Issue on Ethical Eating. Romeo Ramirez, who has been a CIW leader for 11 years, and who was awarded the 2003 Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Human Rights award for his work undercover to investigate a slavery operation involving more than 700 workers in the Florida citrus fields, met with the UUMFE board and groups from area congregations.
Susan Leslie, UUA Congregational Advocacy & Witness Director, represented the UUA at the rally, and joined other faith leaders in reading a statement from interfaith leaders to Ahold. She said, “Unitarian Universalists are standing on the side of love with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers—with farm workers. Those who perform the backbreaking labor of harvesting tomatoes have historically been among the poorest paid and most-abused workers in America. In recent decades, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers has organized Florida farm workers in a successful campaign to secure safer working conditions and higher rates of pay. The success of this campaign depends on the willing participation of companies who purchase the lion’s share of tomatoes from the Florida fields.”
So far, Stop & Shop has refused to come to the table, but CIW says that this action “laid the groundwork for many more actions in the future, until Stop & Shop hears the call of its consumers and meets the ethical purchasing standards established by farm workers in Immokalee, taken up by leading food retailers, and implemented by virtually the entire Florida tomato industry.”