Initially, I was alarmed to hear that had not covenanted with the tomato pickers of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers to agree to pay a fair wage.
Trader Joe’s presents itself as a progressive and socially conscious company. I had heard that employees were paid well and received benefits and generally enjoyed their jobs. I like the products that the store sells and enjoy their special touch that makes their service and products unique.
So, when I learned that the store had not agreed to pay the penny extra a pound for tomatoes, I assumed that this was just an oversight. My experience on Friday, October 21, however, leads me to believe that the company is not interested in fair trade tomatoes nor is it courteous, conscientious, and kind.
I gathered with a delegation of nearly two dozen clergy: rabbis and and pastors concerned about worker justice, as well as farm workers from Immokalee and about 400 community members who support the fair trade. We .
We arrived, engaged in prayer, and a small delegation of clergy went to the office in hopes of speaking to the CEO. Not only did we not speak to the CEO, we did not speak to the CFO. Nor did we speak to single soul who worked for Trader Joe’s; not a public relations representative, not a secretary--no one but a security guard stationed outside the locked doors of the facility. I knocked on the door, waved at the people inside trying to signal them so we could speak. They actually hid from us.
Trader Joe’s did not have the courtesy to send one person out of the office to speak to the non-violent, peaceful pastors and rabbis who also happen to be customers, who gathered to share a word. Instead, they called the police and had us escorted off their property. We left our letters signed by dozens of Southern California Interfaith leaders beseeching Trader Joe’s to live up to its progressive reputation and pay the Immokalee workers an extra penny a pound. Seconds after we left, however, the doors opened and our letters were ceremoniously ripped up before our very eyes.
I have never seen such an act of disrespect! As a pastor who cares about safe working standards and fair wages, I am disappointed in any corporation who does not value human dignity over low prices. As a Trader Joe’s customer, I am ashamed. I had expected better.
It is my hope and prayer that the heart of Mr. Bane, Trader Joe’s CEO, will be opened and that he will apologize for the rude behavior and non-existent welcome we received last Friday. But more importantly, I pray that Trader Joe’s will instead become a leader in fair foods, will uplift the high standard of safe and fair work environments, and support the efforts of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and those who stand in solidarity with them by signing the agreement to pay the penny more.
Rev. Dr. Sarah Halverson
Fairview Community Church
2525 Fairview Road
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
UPDATE: Local blogger Brad Haaugard responds here in defense of Trader Joe's.