A half dozen people gathered at the Taco Bell on Burnside at NW 21st on Saturday to urge people to boycott the restaurant. "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. Their intention is 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 negotiate with the farmworkers about better living and working conditions.
Saturday's picket was organized locally by the Cross Border Labor Organizing Coalition (CBLOC), which has staged actions outside other Taco Bells in Portland over the last few months. The goal of these actions is to get the local store manager to write a letter to Taco Bell's corporate management urging them to negotiate with the tomato pickers.
Reception from pedestrians and drivers was mostly positive. We got a lot of honks and when the activist with the loudspeaker called out "Boycott Taco Bell", many people called out "Why?" These folks got a flyer right away.
Very few customers entered the store during the picket, which had been over half full when it started. At least a dozen cars used the drive-thru, though, during the two hours that the picket lasted. These customers were flyered on their way out.
Activists entered the store after over an hour of picketing to talk to the manager. She took the literature explaining the campaign and listened while the activists asked her to write a letter, but told them that she was "not authorized to do that sort of thing". The activists said they would not be going away, and would be back again. "I don't have any problem with you being here," she said. "It's a free country and you can say what you want as long as you don't bother anyone."
As we left the restaurant one of the patrons piped up. "I'll be writing a letter to the president [of Taco Bell]. I had no idea this was going on." A small victory, that.
CBLOC organizes these Boycott the Bell pickets every two weeks or so, moving from location to location. For more information, call (503) 236-5573.