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Students support Taco Bell boycott

By Judith Scherr Daily Planet staff
Wednesday May 23, 2001

“Boycott Taco Bell, shut it down/Berkeley is a union town,” Sara Smith called from her bullhorn, as about a dozen UC Berkeley students tried to get the noontime Taco Bell crowd to eat elsewhere on Tuesday.  

At issue, say the boycotters, organized into the Farm Worker Support Committee, UC Berkeley, are the wages tomato-pickers in Florida earn. The workers, whose tomatoes are purchased by Toco Bell, are paid 40 cents for every 32-pound bucket of tomatoes they pick. That means a worker needs to pick and haul 2 tons of tomatoes to make $50 a day, protesters said. 

“We’re supporting the tomato pickers in Florida, calling for the boycott,” Smith said, explaining the workers had organized themselves into the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. 

The coalition is asking Taco Bell to pay contractors, whom the tomato-pickers work for, 1 cent per pound more than they do now. 

A spoksperson for Taco Bell, however, said the company, famous for its Chihuahua pooch, has no control over worker wages. Workers work for contractors who sell their tomatoes to brokers who, in turn, sell the tomatoes to Taco Bell.  

“I’m not sure why they target Taco Bell,” said Taco Bell spokesperson Laurie Gannon. “We don’t use that many tomatoes.” 

Inside the Shattuck Avenue Taco Bell, one worker said if the boycott helped improve the workers’ wages, it was a good thing. 

A number of people looked at the students and kept walking, instead of going inside. “I was going to go in, but they’re boycotting,” said one woman. 

Another told her child, about 5 or 6 years old, “That’s not very nice. They’re not paying their workers properly.” 

Tom Myers went into the store, despite the boycott signs, but said he supports the boycott movement anyway. “They’re right to do that. I’m glad they’re trying to do something,” he said. 

“While Taco Bell made over $5.2 billion in 1999, the median annual income of farm workers is currently $7,500 (according to the U.S. Department of Labor),” according to literature given out by the boycott group. 

Gannon did not want to speak to the plight of the farm workers. Instead, she argued that the dispute is properly between the workers and the contractors. “It’s a labor dispute. We do not get involved in other (companies’) labor disputes,” she said.