On Tuesday, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers scored aprecedent-setting victory for America's beleaguered farm workers.
After three years of a CIW-led boycott against Taco Bell, Yum Brands Inc.--the world's largest fast-food corporation and the chain's parent company--agreed to improve working conditions of the Florida tomato pickers and increase their wages by paying an extra penny per pound oftomatoes picked.
The average American farm worker lives far below the poverty line,(barely) subsisting on $7,500 a year. Currently, the market price for tomatoes hovers around 32 cents per barrel, roughly the same amount it stood at thirty years ago. For the tomato pickers, the penny-per-pound increase provides a significant income boost. For America's farm workers, CIW's victory is a groundbreaking step towards a more socially responsible fast-food industry.
Taco Bell's concession comes on the heels of CIW's protest outside the Yum corporate headquarters in Louisville, Kentucky on Saturday. The protest was the culmination of CIW's massive "Taco Bell Truth Tour," which drummed up support for the boycott across the country. The National Council of Churches, representing 50 million Christians, and prominent figures such as Jimmy Carter strongly backed the movement. Campus activists also provided a major boost: students at over 300 colleges and universities participated in the boycott, and students at twenty-one schools even had Taco Bell removed or barred from their campuses.
"This is an important victory for farm workers, one that establishes a new standard of social responsibility for the fast-food industry and makes an immediate material change in the lives of worker," said Lucas Benitez, co-president of the CIW. "This sends a clear challenge to other industry leaders."
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Co-written by Sam Graham-Felsen, a freelance journalist, documentary filmmaker, and blogger (www.boldprint.net) living in Brooklyn.