Sunday, October 18, 2009

City of Lake Worth to vote on Publix deal; Will they ignore farmworkers and local grocers' concerns?

This article below was posted on news. It sounds a little too familiar.. (the article online has several helpful links to its sources, if you want the fuller version, check out: and scroll down to Sept 2.)

September 2 , 2009

Publix sweetheart deal at taxpayer expense in Ft. Myers, Florida, comes under increasing scrutiny...

A columnist for the Ft. Myers News-Press took a strong stand this past week against the questionable use of taxpayer dollars in a time of economic crisis... and the recipient of the public largesse in question is none other than Florida supermarket giant Publix ("Ft. Myers in no shape to give Publix rent break," 8/28/09).

It seems that Publix -- which is "ranked No. 10 on Forbes' 2008 list of America's Largest Private Companies and is the largest privately held company in Florida" -- has been receiving free rent at a new downtown Ft. Myers location for two years now, at the rate of $50,000 per month. Now the company is looking to keep the taxpayer money flowing its way for another two years, for a total of another $1.15 million. We'll let Columnist Mr. Cook take it from here:

"Fort Myers is broke, yet the city's Community Redevelopment Agency may forgive Publix two more years of rent, which, based on the past two years, amounts to $1.15 million.

For those keeping score, Publix on West First Street was forgiven five years of rent two years ago when it opened. A rent-free extension is preposterous - even for Fort Myers officials.

'From the beginning, the free rent was offensive,' says Councilman Warren Wright.

Why is a city $400 million in debt not charging rent to a for-profit grocery chain?..."

It seems the sweetheart deal was struck to lure Publix to open a store in the downtown area of Ft. Myers as a means to encourage the neighborhood's further economic development. But according to the News-Press story, there is no indication that the downtown Publix is struggling, especially after Publix closed a nearby store the company had apparently promised to keep open:

"... While the CRA ponders Publix rent, resident Timothy Jones gives it food for thought.

'I don't think Publix is hurting,' says Jones, who owns property next door on Clifford Street. 'They're getting the old customers from the Cleveland Avenue location plus more from downtown.'

Jones says public money should not be used to sustain a failing business.

'I find it hard to believe this store is not profitable,' he says. 'The parking lot is full. Where is the evidence? The City Council should demand proof. Would they take my word if I was asking for a million bucks?'

Wright also reminds folks Publix speaks with a forked tongue.

'They promised the Publix on Cleveland Avenue wouldn't close, but it did,' Wright says. 'If they don't make enough money, they will pull out of the new one, too. Whatever happened to capitalism?'''

Tough questions for the company known as the "neighborhood grocer".

The questions may only get tougher when the Community Redevelopment Agency takes this into consideration... [Tale of two grocers]


On Thu, Oct 15, 2009 at 11:35 AM, PBC EnviroCoalition wrote:

"Honorable Commissioners,
I am addressing this to the both the City Commission and CRA. As i know, many of you are familiar with the conditions and efforts of farmworkers in south Florida. As you may or may not know, many of the residents in our immigrant communities have lived and worked in the Immokalee area prior to living in Lake Worth, and many continue to work in an agricultural sector plagued with reports of exploitation and multiple cases of modern day slavery prosecuted by federal law enforcement.

In the midst of discussing an official invitation to bring Publix downtown, potentially accompanied with a contribution of $500,000 dollars of public money through the CRA (which is intended for flighting blight in our neighborhoods NOT courting corporate interests to town) a leading farmworker-led south Florida organization has called for protests of Publix's denial to recognize the human rights and dignity of those who harvest our food.

Meanwhile, here in Lake Worth, the undeniable reality is that the Publix supermarket will primarily service residents OUTSIDE of the CRA district. There are already multiple locally-owned and operated grocers in or near the CRA district--including a Publix already within walking distance to the westside neighborhoods.

Let's put aside the question of whether or not this Publix is needed in Lake Worth (as the majority of officials elected or appointed to represent the City seem indifferent to that factor), and look at the issue of justice and social responsibility. There are three primary matters at hand:

1) CRA money to Publix
Is it just or responsible to hand half-a-million dollars of public money, a substantial portion of the CRA's annual budget, to the Publix corporation, who have not established any need for such assistance on public record? Does this disregard low-income residents the neighborhood improvements they deserve and pay for?

2) Publix's role as a neighbor in Lake Worth
Should we invite a new Publix to town without a commitment to honor the basic wage increase and commitment to human rights standards being asked of them?

3) The small locally-owned grocery businesses
How will big-box development, such as Publix, impact long-standing and new struggling local businesses? Will the City and CRA make commitments to continue assisting these businesses as well?

Below is some current background info on the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) stance on Publix and schedule for protests. The response that they have received from Publix thus far does not indicate that they are committed to being a socially responsible neighbor to local residents nor to the agricultural workers who contribute to Lake Worth's local economy.

I look forward to your response, and am open to further dialogue on the matter. Our group is committed to the protection of both our natural environment and an equitable quality of life for all residents. We would like to believe that you are as well.

Panagioti Tsolkas
Palm Beach County Environmental Coalition

> ---------- Forwarded message ----------
> From: coaimmwkr
> Date: Fri, Oct 2, 2009 at 3:42 PM
> Subject: "The Autumn of Our Discontent": CIW announces Publix protests set for the fall

Fed up with Publix's empty excuses for inaction, farmworkers and allies plan a full fall calendar of action at Publix supermarkets across Florida!

Check out the CIW site, today for all the details! Here below is an excerpt of what you'll find there:

"Publix: Where shopping is still a shame"

When Compass Group and East Coast Growers announced their groundbreaking agreement to implement the CIW's Fair Food principles this coming season, Senator Bernie Sanders, a long-time observer of the Campaign for Fair Food, issued a statement that began:

"Today marks the beginning of the end of the harvest of shame that has existed for far too long in Florida's tomato fields."

Indeed, with farmworkers and growers finally working together to produce a fairer tomato -- including higher wages and better farm labor conditions made possible, in part, by the support of major retail food corporations that buy Florida tomatoes, like Compass Group and McDonald's -- it seemed inevitable that other large tomato buyers would seize the opportunity to be part of the solution to Florida's longstanding shame of farmworker exploitation.

Publix, however, refuses to be part of that solution.

Farmworkers and their allies will be joining forces this fall to press their case with Publix and demand that the largest publicly held company in Florida do its part to help improve farm labor conditions and eliminate modern-day slavery in the state.

Toward that end, a full calendar of actions at Publix stores has been set. Here below are the dates as they stand at this time (with more to come in the days ahead):

Month of Publix Protests:
> Oct 17 & 18 - Southwest Florida (Naples, Port Charlotte, Venice, Sarasota and Ft. Myers)

> Oct 24 & 25 - Gainesville

> Oct 31 & Nov 1 – Orlando

> Nov 7 & 8 - Ft. Lauderdale & Miami

> Nov 14 & 15 – Tampa & St. Petersburg

> Statewide Organizing Tour: November 18-24

> Major Action in Lakeland (early December, exact date to be announced)

If you live in or near any of the cities above, email us to find out how you can get involved at!

It's time for Publix to end the excuses and work together with farmworkers, growers, and consumers for social responsibility.

Join us this fall in pressing Publix to make shopping truly a pleasure by supporting fair wages and working conditions for the farmworkers who pick its tomatoes.

Thanks - Coalition of Immokalee Workers


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