Bumper stickers found in many college dormitories and church parking lots during the recent boycott of Taco Bell featured a Spanish-speaking Chihuahua—playing off the chain’s ads—turning down the fast- food chow to demand a penny more per pound for tomato pickers.
Heading the campaign was the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a farm worker-led organization based in Immokalee, Florida, with more than 2,500 members, most of whom are Latinos, Haitians, and Mayan Indians. The nearly four-year boycott put worker concerns—low wages, poor working conditions, and discrimination—in front of many consumers and led to an agreement with Yum! Brands, Taco Bell’s parent company.
The campaign is one of several recent examples of tapping into the power of consumers. Through education, boycotts, and other methods, farm workers can make those who eat the products they grow and pick aware of the conditions they experience—and ask for their help in changing those conditions.
“The life of an agricultural worker is one of exploitation,” said Lucas Benitez, a worker and organizer with the coalition who came to the U.S. from Mexico as a teenager. Farm laborers work long hours, with no benefits, health care, or overtime pay, he said. “The imbalance of power is tremendous.”
The agreement reached by the coalition and Yum! Brands established important precedents of increasing wages coming down the supply chain and involving workers in the monitoring of conditions in the fields, said Brigitte Gynther, an organizer with the coalition. The change for workers has been immediate, Benitez said, after more than 20 years of receiving the same salary. Each week, he said, “depending on how much they harvest, they receive between $15 and $40 more.” Also essential, Gynther said, are the safeguards against what the coalition believes to be inhumane working conditions the pickers have suffered.