Written July 12, 2007     

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© 2016 Bob Lonsberry


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I have a challenge for Wegman's food markets.

Take a stand on illegal labor.

Who is Wegman's? It's arguably the best grocery chain in America. Recently declared the best place to work in the country, it has developed a national reputation for excellence and customer service. When Wegman's comes to town, it is a big deal. When Wegman's comes to town, the consumer wins.

I'm proud of Wegman's. It is a Rochester-based company that brings honor to the community by its presence. And the family that owns it has at every turn been generous, selfless and bold in its leadership and philanthropy.

Wegman's is a very good thing.

It is also a very powerful thing. It is an enterprise with a lot of weight to throw around. Fortunately for all, it does so very judiciously. It is a company that honestly and earnestly seems to strive to be a good neighbor and a benefit to the communities it serves.

So I'm asking it to take a stand.

I'm asking Wegman's to take the lead on the issue of illegal labor. I'm asking Wegman's to certify that its produce, meats and dairy products are produced by legal workers. I'm asking Wegman's to demand of its suppliers proof that their employees are in the United States legally.


Because the country, the community, the consumer and the worker all deserve it.

The country needs its businesses to support the law of the land. The community needs its businesses to engage in practices that build the community, not tear it down. The consumer needs the assurance that her grocery dollars are not subverting workplace protections,wages, American workers or the law. The worker needs a workplace and prevailing wage that aren't undercut by illegal workers and the substandard wages and working conditions their presence brings.

The American worker needs to know that the agriculture industry and its friends in the grocery business aren't artificially holding down wages by profiting from low-pay illegal immigrants.

The fact is that the grocery business profits from illegal labor. Illegal labor holds down the prices of fruits and vegetables, grains, meat and dairy products. Those low prices are passed on wholesale to stores. It all works out fine, except that workers are hurt and the law is ignored. And, many believe, there are sociological impacts to illegal immigration which could be devastating.

So the Wegman's shopper wonders.

Wegman's goes out of its way to have top-notch produce, meat and dairy. Whenever possible, Wegman's tries to use local suppliers -- the local farmers, growers, orchardmen and dairymen. That is a laudible and noble thing.

It is also good business sense. Because many consumers like to buy from their neighbors -- I know I do. Many will buy something just because it is local and because they believe if they buy something from a local farm that helps that local farm stay in business and be a contributing part of the community. It's good to spend your money where you make it and Wegman's commitment to local agricultural producers does that.

Unfortunately, the position of many local farmers and the New York Farm Bureau is that illegal labor is essential to agriculture. About five years ago the illegals came into the area's vineyards, orchards and milking parlors and in many operations they now predominate. The upstate New York farm is now overwhelmingly Spanish speaking and, to hear farmers tell it, illegal alien staffed.

Consequently, it is only natural to presume that illegal alien labor is used to grow the local produce, meat and dairy sold at Wegman's. To many consumers, that is a powerful argument against buying it. The farmers say they have to use the illegals, but there's nothing that says the rest of us have to buy their stuff.

And I, personally, don't want to. I don't want to support illegal labor that is a threat to my neighbor's job and my country's security.

And I want my grocery store to certify to me that it is doing business with lawful suppliers.

Wegman's tells me where the apples are from, if the berries are organic and how fresh the milk is. I want it to also tell me if they were each produced in accordance with the law.

And I think others might feel the same way.

I would think that a member of a labor union would be eager to see proof that a product didn't artificially depress wages by using scab workers -- and that's what illegal workers are. I would think liberals would want to protect the interests of undocumented workers who are taken advantage of by producers who offer poor accommodations, low wages, few benefits and no future to their employees. I would think everyone would want to support the law of the land. And I would think conservatives would not want to reward employers who, by breaking the law themselves, are the real root of the illegal immigrant problem.

So I challenge Wegman's to do something about it.

As a shopper, I want to know that the food I buy is safe and legal.

I know the produce, meat and dairy at Wegman's is safe.

I do not know that it is legal.

And I want my grocery store to set my mind at ease. I want Wegman's to certify that its suppliers are obeying labor and immigration laws by not employing illegal workers.

And if those suppliers won't, then I don't want Wegman's to do business with them.

- by Bob Lonsberry © 2007

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