October 21, 2011 | 8:04pm
Three vans of people -- many from El Centro Cultural de Mexico and others from Justice for Janitors and an inter-faith group -- carpooled from Santa Ana to Monrovia today for a protest at Trader Joe's headquarters.
The crew of 30 or so from Santa Ana convened with about 200 others, a combination of religious leaders, students and farm wokers, for a protest planned by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers
(CIW). The coalition, which is led by tomato-pickers from Immokalee, Fla., wants the grocery giant to sign up for their "fair food" program.
Under the program, which companies like Whole Foods, Burger King and McDonalds have already signed on to, Trader Joe's would pay an extra cent per pound of tomatoes they buy. The program also creates a stricter code of conduct that ensures better working conditions in the fields.
, a 26-year-old Guatemalan migrant who works in Immokalee, says he makes about 82 cents per 32-pound bucket of tomatoes he picks. The per-bucket rate hasn't increased in almost 30 years, Sales says, adding that during the busiest part of the year he works 10 hours a day and makes about $65.
Protest leaders scream into bullhorns, people meander toward a makeshift stage and Sales hoists a bucket of tomatoes onto his shoulder. "I just want people to unite with us. The only thing we want is justice and for this modern-day slavery to stop," he says in Spanish.
After a prayer and few chants, the crowd marches in front of a nearby Trader Joe's. A Hawaiian-shirt clad employee walks out of the store carrying a woman's bags from her. "What's their problem?" the woman asks. "Oh, I don't know, cause we won't sign some contract of theirs," the employee responds.
From the grocery store, the crew walks a mile or so to the company's headquarters, a non-descript, grey building. Protesters carried signs and chanted. One sign said, "TJ's. WTF?" and another, "Traitor Joe's." "Up, up with a fair food nation, down, down with exploitation," they chanted.
At the headquarters, a small group of religious leaders and farm workers walked to the front door, knocked on it and waited. A security guard standing outside wouldn't answer any questions, but added that nobody would come out to talk to them or to take the letters they wanted to drop off. A few minutes later, the police showed up, but first the group attached two eight-foot long pieces of paper with the names of different religious leaders who support the program to the front door. As the cops escorted the protesters from the building, someone came from inside and ripped down the letters.
The protesters headed back to the stage. They were a bit dejected, but still spirited. Gerardo Reyes, a farm worker from Immokalee, says the battle is far from over. "They say a consistent drop of water can reshape a rock. Trader Joe's is the rock. We're going to reshape the way they do business. We're going to reshape their heart."
Although the protest leaders didn't call for an official boycott of Trader Joe's, the idea certainly came up. Ava Kim, a member of a restaurant workers' union in LA, says she used to shop at Trader Joe's, but now tries to avoid it.
Protesters get ready to march in to a nearby Trader Joe's.
Marisa Gerber/ OCWeekly