COALITION OF IMMOKALEE WORKERS EMBARK ON MCDONALDS TROUTH TOUR-Andrew Stelzer03/27/06
This month, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a group of migrant farm laborers from South Florida, is celebrating the anniversary of a successful 4-year boycott of Taco Bell. The farm workers demanded they be paid a penny more per pound for picking tomatoes that ended up in Taco Bells food. They also wanted to draw up a code of conduct to protect their rights in the fields.
In March of last year, Taco Bell agreed to the workersâ€™ requests. It was a groundbreaking agreement, but it affected only a small fraction of the fast food industry.
Now the Immokalee Farm workers have set their sights on the worlds largest restaurant chainâ€¦McDonalds.
On Sunday, the farm workers embarked on the â€œMcDonalds Truth Tourâ€?â€¦a 16-city campaign that could be a prelude to another boycott of an American fast food giant.
STORE AMBIANCE, CASH RIGISTER
About 3000 Mexican, Guatemalan and Haitian farm workers are members of the Coalition of Immokalee workers, or CIW.
Francisca Cortes came to Immokalee from Oaxaca, Mexico 6 years ago. She often earns less than minimum wage picking tomatoes, many of which end up as a garnish for McDonalds hamburgers. The standard rate is about 40 cents for a 32-pound bucket, which means she has to pick 2 tons a day to earn just 50 dollars. But when she picks tomatoes for suppliers that sell to Taco bell, Cortes earns 20 dollars more.
She wants McDonalds to match Taco Bells wages.
ACT 1 Francisca VO â€œMcDonalds is one of the corporations that buys cheap tomatoes, and were not disposed to keep receiving a low wage, and working as hard as we do while corporations like McDonalds keep earning their profits and sweating in the fields.â€?
So Cortes, along with her farm worker colleagues and supporters from student and religious groups, are setting out on a 10 day campaign to build support for their cause. Three tour buses will take them to 16 cities in 9 states throughout the South and the Midwest, until they arrive in Chicago, where McDonaldâ€™s corporate offices are located.
Over the past few weeks, the farm workers have been getting organized using their weekly Wednesday night meetings, and their low power radio station.
ACT 2-Sean â€œthis is really the first time that were taken this message straight into McDonalds backyard. Weâ€™ve sort of been using the kid gloves for the past 6 months and now its time for them to come off.â€?
Student Farm worker Alliance member Sean Sellers is an organizer in Immokalee, and works in the fields harvesting watermelons right along side the immigrant farm workers. The Student Farm worker Alliance has chapters at over 350 high schools and colleges across the country, and helped kick Taco Bell off more than 20 campuses during the boycott. For the upcoming McDonalds bus tour, Sellers and his fellow students will be speaking at Universities and organizing protests outside McDonalds restaurants all along the way.
ACT 3-SEAN â€œâ€¦its absolutely essential that these corporations such as McDonalds, pay a higher price for their tomato. And thatâ€™s not only because theyâ€™re profiting from the poverty of farm workers, but these corporations with their large purchasing power, their volume purchases, actually play an active role in squeezing suppliers and squeezing growers, who then look to control their costs, and do so in the form of keeping farm worker wages stagnant.â€?
Representatives of McDonalds defend the companyâ€™s farm worker policy. They point to McDonaldsâ€™ participation in a newly created non-profit group called Socially Accountable Farm Employers, or SAFE. SAFE audits and certifies farms that pay promised wages, and treat workers according to the law. It was created by the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association, a lobbying group that represents 500 Florida farms, in partnership with The Redlands Christian Migrant Association.
But the Immokalee Workers have not signed onto SAFE, because it does not address wage increases, and because the farm workers themselves were not involved in its creation.
ACT 4-Lucas VO â€œSAFE doesnâ€™t contain any real rights for us as workers. It doesnâ€™t mention the possibility of receiving overtime pay. It doesnâ€™t mention any kind of real health insurance.â€?
Lucas Benitez, one of the CIWâ€™s founders, says SAFE is a Public relations stunt that doesnâ€™t guarantee anything that wasnâ€™t already covered under the law.
[do you know where heâ€™s from, how many years heâ€™s been working in the fields, what role he played in the Taco Bell boycott? Just a descriptive phrase to color him with perhaps]
ACT 5 LUCAS VO: Safe simply says that the growers are going to start to pay into social security and pay into workers compensation, these are things that theyâ€™ve done for decades already.
The CIW has met with McDonalds a couple of times, but they say company representatives arenâ€™t interested in treating the farm workers as equal partners.
So the stage is set for a showdown. And Immokalee organizers will use the same strategy that forced concessions from Taco Bell. On April 1st a mass protest is planned in Chicago, home of McDonalds corporate headquarters. Last year a similar rally was planned in Louisville Kentucky, where Taco Bellsâ€™ parent company, Yum Brands, is headquartered. Just a few days before the protest got underway, Yum Brands, feeling the pressure, agreed to the farm workers demands. Now the CIW hopes the same pressure will get to McDonalds. Julia Perkins is an organizer with The Coalition of Immokalee Workers.
ACT â€œwhat were saying to them is very simple..â€?
Special thanks to Beth Wolfe for assistance on that report. For more information about the McDonalds truth tour, log onto www.ciw-online.org