Before you head over to Trader Joe’s to stock up on cheap snacks for your Labor Day weekend festivities, stop and consider shopping somewhere else. Labor Day was enacted not as a general holiday to rest in honor of laborers, but in response to the tragic deaths of striking workers. And good old cheap Joe — which just agreed to stop selling eggs from Jack DeCoster’s vile operations — is one of the remaining holdouts in this decade’s most high-profile, life-or-death farmworkers’ rights campaign.  

Two weeks ago, my coworker Karen and I left the office a little early and walked across Manhattan to the Trader Joe’s store in Chelsea, where a small group had gathered making signs and chatting. Among them were members of the Florida-based Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), a grassroots group working to improve wages and working conditions for farmworkers. Over the course of about 45 minutes, dozens more people filled the sidewalk in front of the store, including labor activists from the Jewish Labor Committee, Just Harvest USA and the Farmworker Solidarity Alliance, as well as local youths and a handful of musicians from the Rude Mechanical Orchestra.

Trader Joe’s, along with Publix, Kroger, and the Dutch-held Ahold grocery chain (which includes Giant, Stop & Shop, Martin’s, and Peapod), are the most recent targets of CIW’s Fair Food Campaign. Over the last nine years the Coalition, together with partner organizations like the Student/Farmworker Alliance, has managed, through well-organized consumer campaigns and sometimes boycotts, to convince some of the food industry’s largest corporations (including Taco Bell/Yum Brands, McDonald’s, Subway, Whole Foods, and Compass — see Grist’s Tom Philpott’s coverage) to agree to the tenets of Fair Food: an extra penny a pound for tomatoes (nearly doubling the wages for pickers, who’ve not seen a raise since the mid-1970s), a labor Code of Conduct, greater transparency in the supply chain, and incentives for growers that respect human rights.