‘Enough’: Publix heiress funds Trump rally and worker denied right to wear mask dies of COVID-19

‘Enough’: Publix heiress funds Trump rally and worker denied right to wear mask dies of COVID-19

Families are boycotting the Publix Supermarkets chain weeks after The Wall Street Journal reported that an heiress to the chain had a hand in funding the rally former President Donald Trump used to incite the deadly Capitol attack. Julie Jenkins Fancelli, who the journal identified as “a prominent donor to the Trump campaign,” paid $300,000 of the total $500,000 rally, according to The Wall Street Journal.

“It was the last straw,” copywriter and former longtime Publix shopper Wendy Mize told The Guardian. “Insurrection at the Capitol, images of the police officer with his head being crushed, individuals dressed as Vikings on the floor of the Senate … we’re not going to call this normal. [Publix] are a private company and it is their business how they want to contribute their money, but it’s also my right to decide where I want to spend my dollars.”

Publix, of course, isn’t the only company supporting Trump. Oracle CEO Safra Catz and Oracle Co-founder Larry Ellison held a fundraiser for the former president last February. CEO Stephen Schwarzman of the investment management company Blackstone Group, and Charles Schwab of the financial investing company have been longtime “friends in finance” with Trump, NPR reported in August. While boycotting an investment company you never considered supporting anyway may not exactly make a statement, ending relationships with the grocer many families have supported for generations definitely does. The Publix chain released a statement on Jan. 30 that attempted to address the concerns of shoppers.

“Mrs. Fancelli is not an employee of Publix Super Markets, and is neither involved in our business operations, nor does she represent the company in any way,” the supermarket chain said in the statement. “We cannot comment on Mrs. Fancelli’s actions. The violence at the Capitol on Jan. 6 was a national tragedy. The deplorable actions that occurred that day do not represent the values, work or opinions of Publix Super Markets.”

The problem is the statement fell exceedingly short of assuring shoppers their dollars wouldn’t end up supporting a white supremacist. It’s also worth noting that Publix’s coronavirus pandemic response has been embarrassingly irresponsible. The Florida-based company wouldn’t allow employees to wear cloth masks or deli workers to wear masks at all through March, the Tampa Bay Times reported. One Publix employee told the newspaper she was asked during a job interview with a St. Petersburg store if she could work without gloves or masks. “I am over 50,” she told the Tampa Bay Times. “I have asthma. I’m high-risk. If I get it, I could potentially die. But I have to work. I have to make money.”

Gerardo Gutierrez, a Miami Beach Publix worker, died from COVID-19 on April 28 after he wasn’t allowed to wear a mask even though a co-worker of his exhibited coronavirus symptoms, his family is arguing in a lawsuit against the grocery chain. A judge ruled on Feb. 5 that Publix must respond to the lawsuit, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. “Prohibiting masks on the basis of not wanting to scare customers served to mislead employees to believe that masks had nothing to do with their personal safety and well-being,” Gutierrez’s family counsel argued on Jan. 29. Attorneys said Publix “knew and/or had been warned that its mask prohibition would increase the risk of becoming infected with COVID-19 and/or spreading COVID-19 to others.”

Three days after Gutierrez’s death, Publix published a news release claiming: “It is a top priority of Publix to continue to serve the communities in which it operates in a way that protects the health and safety of its associates and customers.”

Craig Pittman, an author who has studied the grocer’s rise to prominence, told The Guardian Publix was “very slow adapting to the pandemic … But the thing with Publix is it does lots of little things that people like, they make a big deal of the fact they’ll carry your groceries to the car and won’t accept the tip, they give free cookies to the kids in the bakery, if you ask for a sample they’ll give it to you no questions asked,” Pittman said. “So for a long time people have been willing to overlook some of the less savory aspects of the story, a number of sexual and racial discrimination lawsuits filed by employees, and this whole thing about them or their heirs donating to various politicians. “

Mize told The Guardian: “This time I just thought, ‘Enough. It’s not going to be business as normal.”   

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