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Photos: Farm Workers Protest Outside Trader Joe's Monrovia Headquarters

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers demonstrated outside the grocery chain's Shamrock Avenue headquarters to protest the company's tomato buying policies.

A coalition of farm workers joined students and community members to protest produce purchasing policies in a demonstration Friday that stretched from the chain's store on Huntington to its headquarters on South Shamrock Avenue.

The demonstration by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers began outside the store and carried over to Trader Joe's headquarters at 800 S. Shamrock Avenue, where a group of protesters attempted to get inside the building and speak with representatives from the company. They were met by a single security guard and turned away as another line of protesters chanted "Let them in."

"Trader Joe's demonstrated they don't have any respect for farm workers," said Pastor Sarah Halverson, a protester affiliated with the coalition. "We were hoping we would get some sort of response from them."

A message left with Trader Joe's publicity department was not immediately returned.

The CIW contends that Trader Joe's buys tomatoes from producers in Florida that pay unfair wages to Florida tomato pickers who labor in sometimes abysmal working conditions. The coalition is asking Trader Joe's to sign an agreement that raises the wages workers are paid and guarantees fair working conditions.

Gerardo Reyes, a farm worker who serves as a community organizer with CIW, said that some Florida tomato pickers are forced to work under the threat of violence. He said an agreement like the one Trader Joe's is being asked to sign would go a long way toward improving the working conditions of farm workers.

"Trader Joe's sells an image of an ethical corporation," Reyes said. "To us, it's really only a disguise."

Trader Joe's said in a statement earlier this week that it has agreed to pay an extra penny per pound of tomatoes harvested--one of CIW's demands--but described the full CIW agreement as "overreaching, ambiguous and improper..."

"We have great concern for the rights of all who work to provide products sold in our stores," the statement reads. "We require our suppliers to meet very strict requirements related to the law and ethical standards. We have developed a solution to this matter that provides workers with an 'extra penny per pound' and includes a process to verify that it all works."

Reyes said his organization has no way to verify the company's claims unless it signs its fair food pact, which has been agreed to by other corporations like McDonalds, Subway, Burger King, Taco Bell and Whole Foods Market.

"How can we as workers know that they are paying?," Reyes said. "They can say that but how can we monitor that?"

Police shut off vehicle access to Royal Oaks Avenue from Shamrock to Mountain Avenue. Protesters set up a stage outside Trader Joe's unmarked headquarters and performed skits and songs as demonstrators chanted.

"We will be back. We will be back," the said.

Danielle Corona October 21, 2011 at 10:57 PM
Blocking the street? That is awesome... really love some peoples idea of democracy.
Gordon Wilson October 21, 2011 at 11:07 PM
Nothing but blackmail.
Joe Black October 21, 2011 at 11:07 PM
I wonder how many of these people are documented aliens or US Citizens?
Erin Thorn October 21, 2011 at 11:11 PM
They have agreed to pay the extra amount being asked of them, but aren't wanting to get into the the politics. That's completely within their rights and doesn't make them bad guys. I believe Trader Joe's is being targeted because they are a non-union grocery chain. Someone very close to me works for one of the local unionized grocery chains. He was told at his mandatory union orientation never to shop at either Trader Joe's or Walmart. All you have to do is look at the people who work at Trader Joe's and you can tell they are happy in their workplace. Seems like a great company to me.
Holly Hale October 21, 2011 at 11:57 PM
@ Erin, You've got a great point. The union types may have orchestrated the entire event to damage TJs. I haven't noticed a label on produce there that says, FL, it usually says Mexico. In spite of my love of TJs and pride that they are headquartered right here in little Monrovia, I won't buy produce from Mexico because of the pesticide issues. Sprouts and Dogwood's has it, too. You're also right about the happy employees. @ Joe, NO KIDDING!!!!!
Raymond Aguirre October 22, 2011 at 12:35 AM
Zero common sense. Trader Joes cannot police how anyone is treated except for their own employees. This protest was held WAY to close to my daughters school at the church, and I am deeply upset that the police did not make them leave the area. SEIU Union reps we're present, and are crooks. The credibility of this protest concerns me.
Raymond Aguirre October 22, 2011 at 12:38 AM
You are so right. My friends who work for Trader Joes have never complained about their job, and are always helpfull .
Karen Suarez October 22, 2011 at 01:00 AM
Peaceful protests are great democracy. I love Trader Joes, but not their tomatoes! If their produce practices were better, I would be happy to pay a penny or two more.
Joe Black October 22, 2011 at 01:24 AM
Get a clue Karen. This had nothing to do with the price of tomatoes. No matter what was signed, agreed to or whatever...the people in the fields won't see a penny more. This was simply a Union attack against a non-union supermarket. As the Union's are losing power now that they have destroyed all of the manufacturing in this country, they are simply using these tactics to get attention. Seems to me if the conditions in the fields are so bad, why don't the pickers find employment elsewhere?
Steve O. October 22, 2011 at 03:58 AM
They should be protesting the Florida producers, not Trader Joe's. I really hope TJ's doesn't give into this. A perfect example of people with nothing better to do needing to be angry at something.
Monrovia Betty October 22, 2011 at 05:12 AM
OK - Please remember that NO ONE is forcing the employees to work at Trader Joe's. It is each individuals choice and right to choose to work wherever he or she would like to. Trader Joe's is a GREAT COMPANY to work for. You can see it when you shop there. The employees are happy, helpful, and take pride in what they do. To me that sounds like a great place to work. Back off activists - go fight to corporations that are actually oppressive - not the ones that the employees enjoy working for.
Frank "frazgo" Zgonc October 22, 2011 at 03:41 PM
I agree with Erin. And will add that forcing the closure of streets and making life difficult for others only serves to alienate more to their cause.
Carol B October 22, 2011 at 05:39 PM
Trader Joe's has an agreement to pay the penny per pound and has a process to verify that they're doing that. The CIW contract demanded the penny per pound and stipulated that at least 87% of that be paid to the workers! SO, where does the other 13% go??? That was only one of the problems with this agreement. This is a bad deal. Anyone who shops at TJ's knows the real story. They are doing a great job without union interference and need to keep it up.
Rachel October 22, 2011 at 07:08 PM
I would like to note that this has less to do with Trader Joes, Monrovia, and least of all unions. These protests, from what I can tell, are part of years long process to improve the wages of the tomato farmers. The group, Immokalee Workers (http://www.ciw-online.org/), began in 1993 organizing for a wage increase (which was abysmally below any livable wage) from companies that bought their tomatoes and with high distribution. Over the past few years Taco Bell and Burger King, among others, have signed the group's agreement which pays the workers slightly more and only costs us shoppers a few cents higher for our tomatoes. I would suggest checking out the "about" page in particular on the link about the group above. I do not dismiss individual's political motivations for the the protest (or of those looking down at it), but I do think it is important to look at exactly what the protesters are asking for (rising wages for the Immokalee workers) and beyond the usual union rhetoric because this group is focused on the first step of the process; the actual production and how merchandise gets to the stores.
Joe Black October 24, 2011 at 02:46 AM
Rachel, your final statements just confirmed that this has everything to do with Unions.
Steve O. October 24, 2011 at 02:47 AM
Rachel, thanks for that information. I'm sure most of us are in favor of decent, livable wages. We just happen to see flaws in the way they're trying to accomplish it.
Samantha October 27, 2011 at 06:33 PM
This is an opportunity for 'mass arrests' of illegals to be dropped off at the border so they can apply for citizenship. Then, & only then, do they have any rights in this country, including, but not limited to protesting. Unions suck, I know, I used to negotiate contracts for a major union & even had my life threatened by a couple of 'actual' goons wearing dark suits & carnations in their lapels (honestly!). The only thing they do is keep butting in to negotiate higher pay which in turn affects every consumer, including themselves. I have a lot of stories about unions that aren't very pretty. However, allowing illegals to play any part in these actions if unwarranted. OK, I'm ready to hear from any of you who disagree.
Steve O. October 27, 2011 at 07:18 PM
Samantha, I agree with the end result of what you're saying. In my view though, I don't think I would feel any differently if these workers were American citizens. I just don't like the idea of this particular group trying to hold a private business hostage by picketing against them when the root of the problem doesn't even lie with TJ's. As far as the undocumented workers go, it isn't that simple to cross the border and get papers and come legally. If it was, we wouldn't have this problem. What I think everyone should accept is that clearly, there is a demand for this kind of labor and as the aftermath in Alabama unfolds, we can see that American citizens aren't the best fit for these field positions. So revamping a system in a way that streamlines this sort of labor works best for everyone. (I know this last comment was a bit off topic, but just my two cents.)

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