February 28, 2003

Students Protest Taco Bell

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About 30 students and community members gathered at a local Taco Bell restaurant yesterday to protest the franchise’s purchasing practices and urge a boycott of its products. Protesters hoped to raise awareness of what they see as workers’ rights violations among Taco Bell’s tomato suppliers.

Taco Bell purchases tomatoes from Six L’s Packing Co. Inc., an Immokalee, Florida-based company which relies on local labor in its fields. The demonstrators accused Six L’s of poor working conditions, holding tomato pickers in debt, and using both violence and threats of violence to curb worker’s rights. They charge that Six L’s has failed to raise the price it pays pickers for tomatoes since 1978.

“They’ve been paying [pickers] forty cents per 32 lb. bucket.” said Anabel Mota ’03, co-chair of Movimiento Estdiantil Chicano de Aztlan (MEChA). At this rate, according to pamphlets distributed by the participants, a picker must deliver 2 tons of tomatoes in order to earn $50.

Protesters who had marched through the Taco Bell parking lot and attempted to converse with customers were warned by police officers that they were required to stay on the sidewalk and off the restaurant’s property.

In accordance, the protesters moved to the sidewalk and directed their demonstration towards vehicles passing by on Route 13.

When the protesters approached the restaurant’s drive-thru, Taco Bell employees came out and argued briefly with the protesters. The employees refused to comment.

Tomer Malchi ’03, robed in an American flag with corporate logos in place of stars, demonstrated in front of the Straight earlier in the day. “These corporations have taken over America.” Malchi said while protesting in Ho Plaza.

“They have a lot more power than groups of individuals just because they have more money. We’re trying to get these people out of poverty who are now making $6,000 to $8,000 per year, which is way below poverty.”

Ellen Stutzman ’04, who led protest chants with a megaphone, said, “This week is the national week of action for the coalition of Immokalee workers who pick the tomatoes that Taco Bell buys. We wanted to protest to show our support and solidarity with the workers.”

Participants carried signs of support for the Immokalee laborers, arguing that even a one cent pay raise per bucket would greatly improve their quality of life.

“I believe that one cent more for these farmworkers is going to greatly improve their quality of life and that’s a drop in the bucket for a corporation whose net take is $22 billion per year,” said Travis Neff ’04.

The protest was organized by members from a number of campus groups, including the Cornell Organization for Labor Action, Students Against Sweatshops, La Asociacion Latina and MEChA. The Taco Bell protest and boycott is part of a national movement which seeks to improve the working conditions and quality of life for Six L’s laborers.

Protester Mirna Cardona ’03 urged consumers to learn more about Taco Bell’s business practices. “I’m here because I feel that consumers need to know what they’re buying and at what cost they’re getting cheap prices. It’s just for information, it’s more important to inform the consumers more than anything else, even if we don’t affect any direct change today.”

Archived article by Jeff Sickelco