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Worker coalition ends boycott of Taco Bell

Worker coalition ends boycott of Taco Bell

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Worker coalition ends boycott of Taco Bell

March 11, 2005    News media contact:  Tita Parham*    
407-897-1184     Orlando  {0259}

An e-Review Feature
By Linda Bloom**

A United Methodist-backed consumer boycott against Taco Bell has ended.

The Florida-based Coalition of Immokalee Workers announced March 8 that it is ending the boycott after Taco Bell agreed to work with the organization to address working conditions and the wages of farm workers in the Florida tomato industry.

In a joint press release with the coalition, Taco Bell President Emil Brolick said the company recognized “that Florida tomato workers do not enjoy the same rights and conditions as employees in other industries and there is need for reform.” Any solution must be industry-wide, he said, but Taco Bell will play a leadership role to be part of the solution.

The United Methodist Church officially joined the boycott last spring by a vote of the denomination’s 2004 General Conference, its top legislative body. Delegates also had approved a worker-related boycott of Mt. Olive Pickle Co., which ended with an agreement last September.

“I look forward to having a bean and cheese burrito and am very glad Taco Bell has cooperated with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers to address fundamental rights and working conditions for the tomato pickers in Immokalee, Florida,” said Jim Winkler, chief executive, United Methodist Board of Church and Society.

“I believe this shows very clearly what an enormous impact the United Methodist Church, the third largest denomination in the country, can have when we put our full weight behind struggles for justice and peace.”

On Feb. 28, farm workers began their “2005 Taco Bell Truth Tour,” which was to include a week of action and a mass rally in Louisville, Ky., where Taco Bell’s parent company, Yum! Brands, has its headquarters.

John Hill, a Church and Society executive who said he was “surprised and delighted” by the agreement, expects that the March 12 mass rally will now be used to call on other companies to follow Taco Bell’s lead.

The success of the boycott, he added, “helps to address those skeptics who think economic boycotts aren’t effective.”

Other religious groups that had endorsed the boycott included the National Council of Churches, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the United Church of Christ and the American Friends Service Committee.

The Rev. Robert Edgar, a United Methodist pastor and chief executive of the National Council of Churches, said he was excited about achieving “two victories in one year on migrant labor issues” through agreements with Taco Bell and Mt. Olive Pickle.

“It’s really very pleasing to see the church and people who are struggling collaborate together, much like they did back in the civil rights movement,” he told United Methodist News Service. “They can make a difference.”

Such work for economic justice must continue, according to Edgar, who pointed to the U.S. Senate’s recent vote against an increase in the minimum wage. “People living on minimum wage are showing up at soup kitchens and homeless shelters because they can’t make it any more,” he declared.

Edgar, who himself had made several attempts to speak directly to Taco Bell’s chief executive officer about the boycott, pointed out that “here is a company that did the right thing.”

According to the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, the agreement with Taco Bell “sets a new standard of social responsibility for the fast-food industry.”

The boycott originated in 2001 because the coalition and others believed that Taco Bell was not addressing issues of alleged worker exploitation by its tomato suppliers. The average wage of 40 cents per 32-pound bucket has not changed in more than 20 years, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Taco Bell recently secured an agreement with several of its tomato growers to “pass through” the equivalent of one-cent per pound directly to workers in an effort to improve wages, according to the press release. Brolick said the company would work only with growers who comply with that procedure.


This article relates to Church and Society.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.