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Taco Bell boycott ends after three years


Photo
JACOB KONST/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Boycott participant Susan Thorpe purchases a meal at the Taco Bell on East Speedway Boulevard and North Campbell Avenue last week for the first time in more than four years.
By Djamila Noelle Grossman
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday, March 21, 2005
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A group of people who had been protesting in front of Taco Bell, 1818 E. Speedway Blvd., for the last three years ended their boycott with celebration as the company agreed to raise worker wages of their tomato suppliers by one penny per pound.

The 15 people who gathered at the Taco Bell wrote thank-you cards, congratulated the restaurant manager and purchased meals to demonstrate the end of the boycott.

The boycott was a national campaign by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and had accumulated about 20 people to protest every Friday night at the restaurant, according to Inez Magdalena Duarte, a Mexican-American studies graduate student.

The group had been protesting since 2002, demanding higher wages for tomato farm workers in Florida, who supply Taco Bell with tomatoes.

Duarte said she had been at the protest at least three times a month since it started and always tried to inform people about the boycott by making posters and selling shirts.

Duarte, a member of Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan, a Chicano student movement, called Taco Bell's decision to increase worker's wages "really, really big and important" and was satisfied with the results of the boycott.

"It gives you a profound feeling of unity and peace in the world," Duarte said. "I'm looking forward for opportunities to make things better for everybody."

Vladimir Slomberg, a member of Jobs with Justice, a national campaign for worker's rights, said he had been to the protest about 15 or 20 times because his organization wanted to support the boycott.

"We support unions and workers who we feel are underpaid or mistreated in any way," Slomberg said. "The tomato workers were living in conditions of slavery."

He said even though it took three years to change things, the efforts of the protest have paid off.

"This is an amazing statement from Taco Bell," Slomberg said.

The CIW requested the protesters thank Taco Bell and "celebrate the victory," Slomberg said.

Francisca Meza, an education and studio arts senior and a member of Pan Left, a nonprofit video production organization, said the boycott became widely known as farm workers and various organizations started to inform the public about the situation.

Meza said many schools and students in the country started to refuse Taco Bell products, which eventually led to the raise of the worker's wages.

"I think it was the power of the people coming together from all sides. The power of unity," Meza said.

Laurie Schalow, director of public relations at Taco Bell, said her company had been working together with CIW for the last three years to better conditions for farm workers.

The coalition made it possible to find farmers who would pass on one penny per pound of tomatoes that have been picked directly to the workers, Schalow said.

The penny is the first step to improve conditions for farm workers, and Taco Bell and CIW hope other companies will follow their example, she said.



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