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Coalition to Begin Hunger Strike

From Reuters

A group of farm workers say they will go on a hunger strike near Taco Bell’s headquarters this week in their latest attempt to get more money for Florida tomato pickers, who saw their real wages fall through the 1990s.

Beginning today, the Florida-based Coalition of Immokalee Workers will begin a hunger strike outside the Irvine headquarters of Taco Bell Corp., one of the fast-food industry’s biggest tomato buyers. Organizers say it will not be a fast to the death, but have not said how long it will last. At least 50 farm workers are expected to join in.

Taco Bell, a subsidiary of Yum Brands Inc. and the top chain serving Mexican-style fast food at its 6,500 restaurants nationwide, says it should not be part of the wage dispute.

“We do believe the coalition’s efforts are misdirected at our company,” Taco Bell spokeswoman Laurie Gannon said. “The farm workers do not work for Taco Bell, they work for Six L’s Packing Co., one of the many farms that we get our tomatoes from. Our business represents less than 1% of Six L’s business.”

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But the farm workers’ group has targeted Taco Bell in hopes the fast food chain can do what the coalition has been unable to -- pressure Florida growers to raise the price they pay pickers for each 32-pound container of tomatoes they harvest. The current rate of about 45 cents per bucket has not changed much in more than two decades.

The average retail price for tomatoes has risen from 67 cents per pound in 1980 to $1.32 in 2002, according to U.S. government consumer price figures.

“Taco Bell should understand that they have the power to change our lives,” said Lucas Benitez of the Immokalee Workers.


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