Five Reasons to #BoycottPublix Besides Its Support of "NRA Sellout" Adam Putnam

Two years later, New Times is still getting hate mail for telling Floridians in 2016 to "stop loving Publix." You all yelled at us then and called us "carpetbaggers" for pointing out that the beloved supermarket chain has abysmal politics. But now, after the Tampa Bay Times detailed the gobs of cash the company is throwing at NRA-loving gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam, an official #BoycottPublix movement is brewing, and, honestly, we're a little bitter. Now you all realize that Publix isn't the beloved, benevolent multi-billion-dollar corporation you thought it was?

The Times revealed Publix and others tied to the company have given $670,000 to Putnam in the past three years. Putnam is running a far-right campaign for governor complete with attacks on the so-called "fake news" media, cash from the state's hated utility and Big Sugar companies, and some terrifyingly white campaign ads. Importantly, Putnam said in 2017 he was a "proud NRA sellout" before shamefully trying to walk back that comment after the Parkland school shooting. After the Times article was published, several Parkland and Pulse shooting survivors, including David Hogg, demanded that people boycott the grocery chain until Publix stops funneling cash to Putnam.

Publix is now trying to fend off a swarm of horrible PR by insisting it somehow supports Putnam but not the NRA. Frankly, the chain should have faced this battle a long time ago. Farmworkers, for example, have routinely described Publix as indifferent to the dreadful conditions they face while picking produce. LGBTQ workers have accused the company repeatedly, over multiple years, of discrimination and harassment.

Here's a primer on why Putnam isn't the only reason to boycott Publix:

1. Publix refuses to join a program guaranteeing farmworkers better wages and protections from sexual harassment. If you haven't seen the 2014 documentary Food Chains, stop reading this article and go watch it. The film chronicles the Coalition of Immokalee Farmworkers, a labor-rights group in Southwest Florida that formed to protect the rights of people picking produce in the Sunshine State. Tomato and other produce pickers in Florida live in squalor because major grocery chains including Publix demand that produce be sold as cheaply as possible. Many live crammed into trailers with other workers, wake up before dawn, work impossibly long shifts in the sun, and rarely, if ever, see their families.

To help end this system, the Coalition of Immokalee Farmworkers created the Fair Food Program. Major, multinational corporations, including Walmart and Whole Foods, have joined and pledged to pay workers a penny more per pound of tomatoes picked. Because 80 percent of farmworker women report sexual harassment or abuse, companies that join the Fair Food Program also agree to stop buying products from farms where abuse is reported.

Publix refuses to join the program. (Here's its extremely callous statement about that subject.) The company refuses to even speak to the Coalition of Immokalee Farmworkers. Food Chains documents a hunger strike the coalition held outside Publix's headquarters, which wound up doing zilch to persuade the company to join the program. Even now that the #MeToo movement has taken hold, Publix has refused this simple step that can help protect farmworkers from sexual violence.

2. Its supermarkets have been repeatedly accused of being hostile places for LGBTQ employees. Last January, the LGBTQ community became enraged at the chain after HIV-positive activist Josh Robbins reported that Publix refused to cover "pre-exposure prophylaxis" (PrEP) drugs that prevent HIV-negative people from contracting the virus. Because HIV is more prevalent among gay men, many doctors encourage them to take the drug to prevent transmission. It turns out Publix had no actual reason for refusing to cover the drugs — it simply didn't want to, and reversed its decision after LGBTQ activists became rightfully upset.

Most people suspect that Publix's reasoning was entirely political and that the chain simply didn't want to "subsidize" safe, potentially gay sex. The chain has faced anti-LGBTQ accusations for years: Numerous employees have recounted allegations of unwelcoming workplaces to New Times since 2014. Gay men have been denied bereavement pay to grieve for dead loved ones. Gay men have been awarded money for being needlessly fired. The company says it's "improving" its stance on LGBTQ issues, but as the PrEP saga showed, it's still far behind the times.

3. The heiress to their founder's fortune hates medical marijuana. Carol Jenkins Barnett, the daughter of founder George Jenkins, in 2016 gave $800,000 to a scare-tactics campaign trying to prevent medical marijuana from becoming legal in Florida. The contribution would seem bad enough on its face, but it looks even worse when you consider that Publix is also a pharmacy and that doctors in medical-marijuana states prescribe fewer doses of opioids, anti-anxiety meds, and other prescription pills when medicinal cannabis is legal.

4. Publix has had a hand in fighting local minimum-wage increases and environmental protections. Publix has, in the past, exerted major influence over the Florida Retail Federation, a pro-corporate, right-wing trade group that really doesn't like when workers in the state ask for things such as fair wages and bargaining rights. After the City of Miami Beach tried to raise its minimum wage to an eventual $13.31 per hour in 2016, the Retail Federation sued. At the time, the federation's five-member board of directors included a Publix executive.

The Publix-backed Federation also sued the city of Coral Gables after the town tried to ban the use of plastic bags in a bid to help clean up the environment. (For what it's worth, Publix also apparently has a pretty big food-waste problem, too.)

5. The company for years has donated to gun-loving Republicans. The Putnam campaign is not even close to the first time Publix or its executives have dumped cash into Republican coffers. Sure, it's donating an unprecedented amount of money to Putnam, but the chain has helped prop up a whole laundry list of NRA-coddling GOP politicians, including Sen. Marco Rubio (who accepted $36,500 in Publix cash in 2016) and Rep. Carlos Curbelo (who got $31,600 the same year). According to the blog Florida Politics, the company gave $2.6 million to Florida candidates during the 2016 election cycle, and the majority of that money went to the GOP.

Bet that next Pub sub might taste a little different from now on.
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Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.

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