“In particular, I have members in my congregation who are key executives in Publix…"
A long-awaited milestone moment in the almost-six-year Publix campaign transpired this past weekend in sunny Daytona Beach, where the Florida United Methodist Church (UMC) held their Annual Conference. After years of on-the-ground organizing by farmworkers and United Methodist allies, a key resolution on farmworker justice calling on Publix to join the Fair Food Program was brought forth before the delegates representing 700 churches across Florida.
The Florida UMC had never successfully passed a resolution in support of the human rights of farmworkers, despite various attempts throughout the decades. Moreover, as those who verbally opposed the resolution on the floor admitted themselves, Publix is a prominent supporter of Methodist institutions throughout the state. Needless to say, the impending vote was charged with this interconnected relationship, giving enormous weight to whichever way Publix’s Methodist brethren would vote. Anticipation had been building for months, until the final hour of the four-day conference, when the resolution was finally presented.
At the end of the day, justice won out in a landslide victory, with a margin far wider than any of the other resolutions on the floor. Not only that, but not one, but two planned attempts were made to strip the resolution of its power through amendments: in one version, removing mention of Publix altogether, and in a second version, exchanging the request that the church “call on Publix… to join the Fair Food Program” for an empty appeal to "strongly encourage that corporation to support farmworkers in a generous and meaningful way.” Despite the impassioned speeches made in favor of both these amendments, too many clergy and laity were thoroughly prepared to explain to the thousand delegates gathered why nothing less than a full and direct call to Publix on behalf of the whole church would be acceptable. Too many dedicated United Methodist allies had engaged in education and action over the years, from listening to farmworker presentations in Sunday church services; to countless clergy and lay leaders marching and fasting; to hundreds of United Methodist Women writing letters and holding vigil.
And so both amendments — as enticing as the path of least resistance could have sounded — were voted down. Finally, the Bishop called a vote on the main motion itself, despite many leaders still waiting in the wings to speak strongly in its favor, from a clergy person and Publix stockholder who spent years working at Publix, to a United Methodist Woman, to a reverend who pastors to Methodist farmworkers, to a church leader who was once minister to Publix’s highest ranking executives. And then, on the big screen, the numbers revealed themselves: 515 for, 165 against. The resolution had passed overwhelmingly.
With this comment, it became clear that Publix's financial muscle has lost its power to persuade even the members of its own community. In the moral arena of the corporation’s decision makers, the body has spoken, and the message is unmistakable: Publix, it’s time to come to the table, and for the first time ever, sit face-to-face with farmworkers. It’s time to join the Fair Food Program.
We wouldn’t want to spare anyone the details of the dramatic unfolding of the resolution’s passing, so please head to the CIW website for the full report. Enjoy listening to the CIW’s United Methodist allies beautifully articulate the urgency behind Publix committing to a proven solution to abuse in the fields, and do spread the news: The tide has turned. At this point, it’s just a matter of time.