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.