Pasadena Independent, Thursday, June 28 – July 4, 2001; Vol. 6, No. 26
by Cory Olsen
A student run protest was held last Thursday in front of the Taco Bell on the corner of Berkeley and Colorado Bouevard. The protest, which drew more than 80 people from noon to 3 p.m., was the first protest in California on this issue, supporting the rights of the CIW (Coalition of Immokalee Worker), a community based organization in Florida of low-wage farm workers.
“This is a campaign bringing the boycott to California, and is the first protest in a series leading up to the big CIW protest in Irvine,” Sara Smith, student at UC Berkeley said. “Taco Bell refuses to take a stand on the issue, which is why we ask that people boycott Taco Bell.”
Lori Ganon, a spokesperson from Taco Bell said that, “Taco Bell’s general policy is that we do not interfere with the policies of other companies. We do not set the prices (of tomatoes).”
Protesters change, “Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Slave wages have got to go!”
According to CIW’s homepage on the Internet (www.ciw-online.org), the workers tried to organize a union and the farm owners would not allow it. The site, run by the workers, says that farm workers at Six L’s Packing Co. are paid forty cents for every 32 pound bucket they pic, a rate that has not increased since 1978. At such a rate, the web site says, workers must pick and haul two tons of tomatoes to make 50 dollars in a day.
The company’s (Six L’s Packing Co.) largest buyer is Taco Bell according to the CIW website, and the farm workers wages would double if Taco Bell agreed to pay just one penny more per pound for the tomatoes.
Gannon said that the statement that taco Bell is the largest purchaser of tomatoes from Six L is incorrect. “Taco Bell is not the largest purchaser of tomatoes, in fact, we buy the least tomatoes from the Florida tomato pickers.”
One Taco Bell customer, and strong supporter of the US economic system, Bud Anderson, came and spoke to the protestors. “This is America, if the workers don’t want to work, they don’t have to work. Businesses should not be penalized because the workers don’t make enough money.” When Mr. Anderson asked, “Do you want some farm workers to make the same money as a doctor?” protestors shouted back vehemently, “Yes!”
Rheanna Gleason, student at UC Berkeley and a member of the farm worker support committee said, “In our system, we have to have people picking vegetables. The problem is that we don’t respect them. It is a very racist attitude and we take the workers for granted. There is a scale of value in our society, and Karl Marx said that what happens is that as the repulsiveness of the work increases, the wage decreases.”
When asked what better ways there were to support and help the farm workers, Mr. Anderson said, “Why not do fund raising to help get them educated?”
Protestor Juhani Yli-Vakkuri responded to Mr. Anderson’s comments about the fund raising that should be done by saying, “Shouldn’t taco Bell be paying to raise funds for the workers? Taco Bell can very easily afford to pay the workers a living wage, but they refuse to meet with representatives for the workers. I just ask that you don’t go eat at Taco Bell.”
Taco Bell’s stance has not and will not change according to Gannon. When asked if Taco Bell would do something if the protests and boycotts started to effect business, Gannon’s response was, “We will still do nothing.”
Juhani also stated at the protest that “Major media is systematically biased against labor, because it is owned by major corporations. The press always sides with businesses.”
Protestor Rheanna Gleason added, “we stand for the rights of all workers, regardless of immigrant status.”