Fifteen people gathered outside the Taco Bell at 7415 MLK on Saturday, July 20, for a "Boycott Taco Bell" picket. Their intention was to educate the public about the low wages of Florida farmworkers who supply the tomatoes that Taco Bell buys and to discourage people from patronizing the fast food restaurant until its national corporate management agrees to negotate with the farmworkers about better living and working conditions. "Boycott the Bell" is a national campaign called by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), a community-based worker organization whose members are largely Latino, Haitian, and Mayan Indian immigrants working in low-wage jobs in Florida. (The town of Immokalee is a center of agriculture in Florida and many farmworkers and their families live there.) Saturday's picket was organized locally by the Cross Border Labor Organizing Coalition (CBLOC), which had staged actions outside other Taco Bells in Portland over the last few months. This was the first picket at this particular store.
The protesters carried signs that said, "Boycott Taco Bell", "Stop sweatshops in the field", and "HONK for workers' rights" and chanted "No Justice, No Tacos!" They handed out flyers to drivers and pedestrians. According to Krista Hanson, one of the organizers, the response at this particular Taco Bell?which is in a part of Portland populated predominantly by people of color?was the most positive they had received so far. A bus driver and some City of Portland workers were among those who were supportive. As I watched, many people honked and waved, and a few drivers slowed down to take a flyer. Krista said they had been swerved at and yelled at outside other Taco Bells, but that nothing of that sort was happening here.
The central issue for CIW is the low wages of tomato-pickers in Florida, who have not received a pay increase since 1978 and must pick and haul 2000 pounds of tomatoes in a day to make $50. Many of farmworkers are employed by 6 L's Packing, an Immokalee-based tomato producer. CIW is seeking an increase of 1? per pound, which would nearly double the picking piece rate. Taco Bell is a major customer of 6 L's, and CIW believes that 6 L's would be likely to open talks with the farmworkers if Taco Bell urged such dialogue.
The picket accomplished at least one of its goals: the store's dining room, which had been "half to three-quarters full" when the protesters arrived at 12:30, was soon empty of customers, according to Krista, and the store's management was definitely feeling the pressure, as I found out from talking to them. Assistant manager on-duty, Mary Lou, said that the situation was "hurting our business" and claimed that she had sent one employee home because of the slow-down. Until the picket ended at 2:00, almost no one entered the store, though a few people used the drive-thru.
Mary Lou was vocal about her frustration with the situation. "Usually the dining room is full now," she said. "Why not picket corporate offices where they can do some good?" She had a general understanding of the issues?"it's about tomato pickers and they want a raise"?and said, "My people need their money, too... It's irritating." She called the police.
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