FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – A farmworkers coalition can use loudspeakers and a slow-moving truck during its planned weekend demonstration in the Town of Palm Beach but its marchers must remain on the sidewalk, a federal judge ruled Friday.
District Judge Robin Rosenberg issued her ruling one day before 500 members and supporters of the Immokalee Coalition of Farmworkers plan to march and rally near the home of billionaire Nelson Peltz, the chairman of the Wendy’s fast-food chain. At issue is Wendy’s refusal to pay a penny-per-pound fee for its tomatoes to supplement some farmworkers’ wages.
Rosenberg ruled that the coalition, which represents about 40,000 workers, has a First Amendment right to have its views heard, so it can use loudspeakers carried by the truck that will travel at 3 mph. She also said the flatbed truck will carry the old, young and the disabled so their constitutional right to demonstrate will not be infringed.
The town had wanted to limit the demonstration to 64 decibels as measured at the nearest private property — about the noise level of two men talking. During the march, property lines could be inches away. To stay within the law, demonstrators would have to march silently or far away from others, meaning their message would be lost, Rosenberg wrote.
“Both options severely hinder the dissemination of the protected speech,” she wrote.
However, she said Palm Beach has a legitimate right to keep its streets clear, particularly so that emergency vehicles can get in and out. The town, which is on a barrier island, is served by one major bridge. Along with 8,700 residents, on winter weekends about 20,000 tourists are typically in town.
It will be easy to move the truck out of the way, if needed, Rosenberg ruled, but not 500 marchers. The coalition had argued that street protests have a long history nationally and that awnings and other overhanging barriers would keep the marchers from carrying picket signs.
“Allowing them to march, but requiring them to stay on the sidewalk, is narrowly tailored to the significant government interest in public safety,” Rosenberg wrote.
Steve Hitov, the coalition’s attorney, said “we won a lot and they won some.” He said the coalition was negotiating with the town to implement the judge’s order.
John Randolph, the town attorney, said the town’s biggest concern was keeping the marchers on the sidewalk.
“We just want to preserve order, public safety and peace and in a great sense, we have been able to do that,” Randolph said.
Among the 590 Florida cities, towns and unincorporated areas with at least 1,000 households that the U.S Census Bureau tracks, Palm Beach ranks 10th in median household income at $105,700. Current and former residents and property owners include the Kennedy family, Donald Trump, commentators Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter, and entertainers Jimmy Buffett, John Lennon and Rod Stewart.
Immokalee, the southwest Florida farming town about 100 miles from Palm Beach where the coalition is based, is 575th, with a median household income of $25,725.
The coalition has used demonstrations and sometimes consumer boycotts to pressure the five largest fast-food companies — Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway and Taco Bell — into joining its “fair food program.” All but Wendy’s eventually joined. The coalition announced a boycott against Wendy’s last week.
Participating companies pay the extra penny-per-pound to their tomato growers to supplement field worker wages in Florida and six other states: Georgia, the Carolinas, Maryland, Virginia and New Jersey.
Tomato harvesters make an average of about $10,000 during the six-month season, getting paid 50 cents for every 32-pound basket they fill. The coalition says the program can add $20 to $150 per week to their checks.
Peltz, a 73-year-old investor, has a net worth of $1.35 billion and is the 423rd richest American, according to Forbes Magazine. One of his companies, Triarc, bought Wendy’s in 2008 for $2.3 billion and he became chairman. The company has said the farmworkers are not Wendy’s employees and it doesn’t feel it is appropriate to pay another company’s workers.
Wendy’s spokesman Bob Bertini said the company had no comment on Friday’s ruling.