A campaign that brought together farmworkers, students, and faith communities has ended in a decisive victory for the workers who pick the tomatoes for Taco Bell. Under an agreement between the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and Taco Bell, workers will receive one cent more per pound of tomatoes picked—nearly a doubling of their current wages—and suppliers will be bound to a code of conduct that prevents indentured servitude and forced labor. This agreement affects thousands of workers in Florida and up the East Coast.The Coalition, based in southwest Florida, is a collective of immigrant farmworkers who pick tomatoes and other produce all across America. From 1997–2000, the group exposed three modern-day slavery operations, freeing more than 500 workers from debt bondage in U.S. fields. The group uses a community radio station to reach isolated farmworkers [see YES! Spring 2005].
In the late 1990s, when wages for tomato pickers had fallen by as much as 60 percent during the previous two decades. the coalition asked the fast food chain to pressure its Florida suppliers to raise wages and improve working conditions. When Taco Bell refused, the coalition started a nationwide boycott in April 2001, focusing its efforts on high schools and college campuses. Using their Truth Tours nationwide bus campaigns to spread their story, the Coalition and their student allies got over 21 schools and universities to prevent or cancel Taco Bell contracts.
The coalition staged hunger strikes and demonstrations outside Taco Bell headquarters and gained support from faith and human rights groups, including the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church, the National Council of Churches, and former President Jimmy Carter.
—Hannah SassamanFor more information, see www.ciw-online.org. Hannah Sassaman is an organizer with Prometheus Radio Project, www.prometheusradio.org.