Written by W. Evan Golder
Think back to how old you were in 1978. Can you remember how much money you made then? Now compare that to how much money you make today.
For most of us, our income in 2001 is quite a bit larger than our income in 1978.
Not so, though, if you pick tomatoes for the Florida-based SixL company.
According to a resolution submitted to General Synod 23 by the Florida Conference, SixL still pays its tomato pickers the same piece rate today as it did in 1978: 40 cents for every 32 pounds of tomatoes picked.
Acting on the resolution, Synod delegates voted to support a boycott of Taco Bell launched on April 1 by The Coalition of Immokalee Workers. Taco Bell was chosen, the resolution states, "because of the sheer volume of Immokalee tomatoes it buys to supply its worldwide operations."
"Given its size and economic strength, Taco Bell has power to help bring about more modern and more equitable labor relations in Immokalee's tomato fields," the resolution continues, "but has refused to meet with farm labor representatives."
Not everyone favored the boycott.
"I think we're going after the wrong group," said Steve Bretthauer, a delegate from First Congregational UCC in Indianapolis. "I just think it's the wrong way to go."
The Rev. Jim Boler, Associate Florida Conference Minister, replied that the workers themselves chose to focus on Taco Bell because many attempts to engage the SixL company had failed and Taco Bell is immediately identifiable.
John Gregory Davis, a delegate from Meriden (N.H.) Congregational UCC, told how he had previous biases challenged by visiting farm workers last year. "I had thought that farm work was unskilled work that people took because they couldn't get other work," he said. "Instead, I learned that farm workers are very skilled, that they take pride in their work and that they enjoy it."
The Rev. Doug Borko, Florida Conference Minister, reminded the group that the UCC was not calling the boycott, only endorsing a time-honored and effective strategy used by farm workers across the country.
"Faith-based groups need to stand with farm workers," he said. "Taco Bell has the power to bring all the parties to the table to talk, and that's what we want them to do."