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Tomato pickers’ group returns Taco Bell check as a ploy

 


Tomato pickers’ group returns Taco Bell check as a ploy

June 22, 2004   

By Daniel Burke*

Calling the offer a public relations ploy, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers has returned a $110,000 check from Yum! Brands, the parent company of Taco Bell.

The check was “the equivalent of a penny a pound for every pound of Florida tomatoes Taco Bell purchased in 2003,” stated a letter from the corporation.

But $110,000 is just a drop in the bucket and does not satisfy the workers’ underlying demands, said a spokeswoman for the tomato pickers, whose cause has been championed by a number of mainline Protestant churches.

The United Methodist Church officially joined the boycott during the 2004 General Conference.  

First called in March 2001 by the Florida-based Coalition of Immokalee Workers, the consumer boycott is in protest of Taco Bell’s refusal to address the issue of alleged worker exploitation by its tomato suppliers. Other religious endorsers include the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the United Church of Christ, the American Friends Service Committee and the National Council of Churches.

The boycott petition, submitted by Methodists Associated Representing the Cause of Hispanic Americans (MARCHA), was passed May 1 without debate by the United Methodist General Conference.

The petition said that Immokalee farm workers “earn sub-poverty wages for picking tomatoes used in Taco Bell food products. According to the Department of Labor, their average wage (40 cents per 32-pound bucket) has not changed in more than 20 years.” Six L’s Packing Co., one of the largest U.S. tomato growers, has been cited by the coalition in particular for exploiting its workers.

Because farm workers are not covered by the National Labor Relations Act, they also are routinely denied unemployment and workers’ compensation benefits.

“The workers are not asking for a payout,” said Julia Perkins, a spokeswoman for the workers’ coalition. “What the workers are asking for is the Yum! Corporation to use its power as a major consumer to make changes in its supply chain to ensure socially responsible business practices.”

According to Perkins, the fast-food chain’s suppliers haven’t raised the tomato pickers’ wages since 1978. In addition, they fail to provide benefits like medical insurance and sick leave, Perkins said.

In a letter to the CIW that accompanied the $110,000 check, Yum! Brands said, “we purchase our tomatoes on the open market” and therefore “have no direct or indirect relationship with the farms or growers.”

Moreover, the corporation said, “Taco Bell purchases less than 1 percent of Florida’s annual tomato crop” and “doesn’t have the clout to cause change absent the support from others who buy more than we do.”

The three-year dispute between Taco Bell and the tomato pickers has drawn the attention of many high-profile leaders, including former President Jimmy Carter, who have rallied to the side of the farmworkers.

As the clash continues, support for the workers from religious organizations continues to grow, said the Rev. Noelle Damico, National Coordinator for the Taco Bell Boycott for the Presbyterian Church (USA).

The churches involved in the boycott have stuffed fliers about the workers into church bulletins, urged youth groups not to order Taco Bell food at their meetings, and initiated letter-writing campaigns to the company.

The Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, stated clerk of the Presbyterian Church (USA), said that the money from Yum! Brands was “not nearly enough. Our brothers and sisters who pick tomatoes continue to suffer.”

“We are so thankful for our religious allies for helping to bring the workers’ situation from the shadows into the light,” Perkins said.

*Daniel Burke is a reporter with Religion News Service. This story is reprinted with permission from Religion News Service, Washington.  Additional reporting by Linda Bloom, news writer for United Methodist News Service.


News media can contact Linda Bloom (646) 369-3759 or e-mail newsdesk@umcom.org.

 

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