Op/Ed: Pastor Stands with Protesters Against Trader Joe's

A pastor involved in last week's protests at Trader Joe's headquarters in Monrovia explains her position in a letter to the editor.

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
714 545-4610

UPDATE: Local blogger Brad Haaugard responds here in defense of Trader Joe's.

d c October 26, 2011 at 12:51 AM
i dont know have both sides of the story, but if it's only a penny i dont see why they wouldn't have paid it. But, they are a business to make money and if it means not paying a penny more, it is there right not to. They dont need to open the door and speak to you. If these workers dont like it find another job and stop crying, or stop shopping at there store. What does fair wages mean anyway, they pay a certain wage, you either take the job or not . Nothing more nothing less.
Heather Shaw October 26, 2011 at 05:10 AM
I am ashamed to be lumped in with people of faith such as this. Such Pharasitic acts would not be what Jesus would do. Really people! Come on. If these folks are so concerned why don't they go build a mission or house or fund raise the money for these workers instead of protest with the cross in front of them. Pathetic misuse of faith. Traders did the right thing. I will proudly support them!!!
jake October 26, 2011 at 02:12 PM
Would you rather everybody stay quiet and allow the exploitation of the workers.
Jill Ramirez October 26, 2011 at 03:28 PM
Jake are you kidding me? Exploitation of workers? I am baffled that these 400 plus protesters are here, in Monrovia, why are they not outside the farms in Florida where this unfair treatment and labor for a menial wage is taking place? Why hasn't it been in the national news? Do you mean to tell me Anderson Cooper is missing out on a good story? What do people do when they do not like their job? They quit and get a new one. I am sure they are welcome to apply to work in the local Publix or Albertsons.
Leif Anderberg October 26, 2011 at 04:51 PM
This is black mail, pure and simple. Does anyone actually believe that the workers would get that extra penny? No way. The union would make sure it ended up in their pockets. It would probably be used to truck these protesting idiots to some other place for them to march and black mail someone else. Please Trader Joe, HANG IN THERE!
Holly Hale October 26, 2011 at 07:31 PM
WAIT! Does TJs actually own those farms? Hmmmm. I think not. Therefore, the price they negotiate for the tomatoes is the responsibility of the seller and buyer. The seller being the farmer who owns the farm, not TJs. As I stated once before on this issue, I have never seen a label on a tomato in TJs that says, "Proudly grown in Florida" but I have certainly seen the ones that say, "Mexico" on them. I want to know why all of them don't say the name of the state where the store is. Like, CA, for example. @Leif, Amen to that and you're right, it is black mail. What is a minister from Costa Mesa doing all the way up here in Monrovia? Perhaps she should be championing a cause in OC, like at Mother's Markets or the Irvine Ranch? I won't be rude but I certainly have a few colorful comments floating around my cranium in regard to this matter.
Alex October 27, 2011 at 12:22 AM
People have a right to protest. It's in the Constitution. Who cares if you agree with them or not. That is our right. And we shouldn't be arrested, sprayed with tear gas, or get hit with batons for doing so (like in Oakland yesterday). The first amendment (for you pro-Americans who don't have a clue): Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. @dc - getting another job is difficult to do these days - easier said than done @heather - striking/protesting is a Christian ideal that goes back to Christ, who cleared the temple of the corrupt and greedy. The Founding Fathers revolted in the name of God. Etc. "Take the plank out of your eye . . . " @Jill - no comment except get a clue @Leif - see comments to Jill @Holly - see comments to Jill & Leif
Holly Hale October 27, 2011 at 01:40 AM
Alex, Not one person on here said those people didn't have a right to protest and no American should be hit or sprayed (unless they are committing violent acts) for doing so. None of has to like what others do, legal or not. As far as business goes and my getting a clue, clearly you don't understand the concept of a business transaction. The buyers and sellers negotiate a price they consider fair. TJs could agree to pay a cent per pound more but how do we know it will get to the pickers? If you don't like TJs, go shop at Fresh and Easy and send your money out of the country to a foreign entity.
Nematoda October 27, 2011 at 03:56 AM
"...go shop at Fresh and Easy and send your money out of the country to a foreign entity." Yes, Fresh and Easy is foreign owned, but the markets that they have here hire American workers and buy American produced goods. So, please, don't engage in xenophobic attacks--it's really not helpful, or even appropriate. We live in a thoroughly globalized economy, which means in part that the idea of a purely "American" or "foreign" company simply doesn't mean what it used to. We may buy a Ford, but then Ford may turn around and invest its US-made profits in China, hiring Chinese workers and sourcing parts from around the world. In this case, what good does it do that Ford is American? On the other hand, you can buy a Hyundai, and Hyundai might take its profits and invest in another US-located manufacturing facility (in addition to the one it already has); hire more workers for it US-based HQs, hire more scientists for its US-based R&D, etc.
Leif Anderberg October 27, 2011 at 05:16 PM
For your information: Although Fresh and Easy is owned by an English grocery chain, Trader Joe is owned by a German grocery chain. Really no big difference.
Tom October 27, 2011 at 05:25 PM
FYI Trader Joe's is a foreign-owned company: German, through a trust set up by the owner of Aldi.
Leif Anderberg November 01, 2011 at 05:20 PM
In my opinion, all this protesting against TJs just proves how vicious and money/power hungry these unions and their bosses really are. Especially since it is a fact that TJ is paying the extra penny per pound, just directly to the workers and circumventing the unions.
Jessica Escobar November 04, 2011 at 06:57 PM
wouldn't he? "Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves." --Matthew 21:12.
Jessica Escobar November 04, 2011 at 07:01 PM
@Jill: you ask many fair questions. i wonder what you think of this one: if everyone wised up, got smart, and walked off the fields to work in Publix or Albertsons, what would happen to our food supply?
Jessica Escobar November 04, 2011 at 07:08 PM
nope! Trader Joe's does not own the farms. many, many years ago, when the Coalition of Immokalee workers first began, they tried working directly with farm owners to rectify this situation. the farm workers, of course, would have none of it, and why would they? they had no motivation since they didn't have to answer to their workers but rather to their buyers. the movement to petition buyers now instead of farm owners has been very successful, and one by one, are signing a pledge not to work with farms that don't use humane practices, including a 1 cent/lb. raise--the first the tomato pickers have seen in over 30 years! why Monrovia? well, Trader Joe's has not been responsive to direct actions at their locations, so visiting corporate headquarters was the next step.
Jessica Escobar November 04, 2011 at 07:12 PM
@Holly: you are absolutely correct that "buyers and sellers negotiate a price they consider fair." but the Coalition of Immokalee Workers represents the interests of neither they buyer nor the seller; they represent the forgotten worker.
Jessica Escobar November 04, 2011 at 07:30 PM
Leif, i'm curious what you know about the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. and i ask because you seem very committed to an image of them that is very inconsistent with their practices and work.
Bill C. November 05, 2011 at 01:29 AM
Ales said..."People have a right to protest. It's in the Constitution. Who cares if you agree with them or not. That is our right. And we shouldn't be arrested, sprayed with tear gas, or get hit with batons for doing so (like in Oakland yesterday)". Problem is that a number of them in Oakland turned violent and at that point the police have a duty to use what force is reasonable to take these violent thugs into custody and restore order. With the freedom to protest comes the responsibility of doing so in a legal and non-violent manner Alex. Choose another path and go to jail...period.
Bill C. November 05, 2011 at 01:30 AM
Meant "Alex".
Leif Anderberg November 05, 2011 at 06:33 AM
Of course we have freedom to demonstrate and to say pretty much anything we want. However, there are certain things you can't say, like yell "fire" in a crowded room. Another thing would be to demonstrate about something against a person or company that has nothing to do with what the demonstration is all about. That in my opinion is what the TJ demonstration was all about! Check your facts, TJ is already and have for some time paid that extra penny per pound on tomatoes. And, by the way, churches and other religious organizations should stay out of politics - period! Separation of church and state is also part of the constitution.
Romulo December 05, 2011 at 11:27 AM
Hey everybody, please read these two official statements by Trader Joe's regarding the issue. I was also mad at Trader Joe's for not signing the contract, but that's because I was once, like you, an ignorant shmuck. Happy reading. http://www.traderjoes.com/pdf/attachments/Note-to-Customers-about-Florida-Tomatoes.pdf http://www.traderjoes.com/about/customer-updates-responses.asp?i=60


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