Christians Rally with Immokalee Workers Outside YUM! Brands

( [email protected] ) May 25, 2004 07:56 AM EDT

On Thursday, May 20, about 100 farmworkers and their supporters – including a number of Presbyterians and Methodists – held a daylong fast and prayer vigil outside the headquarters of Yum! Brands Inc. in support of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW). The peaceful demonstration was one of dozens staged in the last several months, in an effort to raise the farmworkers’ wages and better the working conditions of those in the field.

Yum! Brands Inc., parent company of Taco Bell, has been paying a mere 1-cent a pound wage to the Immokalee workers. To earn a minimum wage of just 10 dollars a day, the workers must gather and pick 2 tons of tomatoes; to illustrate this gruesome reality, the workers and supporters constructed a “Pyramid of Poverty” of 125 picking buckets with 2 tons of tomatoes.

During the annual company meeting held on the same day, the chairman of Yum! Brands gave an offer to increase the wage, as long as the market price rises by the same.

"If you are willing to end this today, we are," chairman and chief executive Officer David Novak told representatives of the coalition at the meeting. "We will do our best to aid the workers if the boycott ends.”

However, the coalition spokeswoman Julia Patterson said the offer ‘rings hollow.’

"They are offering us promises, not a commitment to change," Patterson said. "How can we trust them?"

Yum! Brands Inc. offered Thursday to help a group of farmworkers push for better wages and working conditions if it agreed to end its three-year boycott of the company's Taco Bell chain.

Currently, the National Council of Churches and its 36-member church communion have agreed to boycott Yum! Brands as an act of support to the CIW – marking the NCC’s first boycott in over a decade. Since the NCC stepped in along with the Presbyterian Church USA and the United Methodist Church, the CIW member expressed a greater confidence in their call for recognition.

“At the beginning of our movement we asked for justice, and many laughed,” said Gerardo Reyes Chavez, a CIW member. “Now we know that when we’re demanding justice there are people in every corner of this country who are joined with us. We know that we’re on the right path, and we know that we will arrive where we need to go.”

“These numbers are getting big,” said Virginia Nesmith, executive director of the National Farm Worker Ministry and a member of the Justice and Advocacy Commission of the National Council of Churches (NCC), which also has voted to support the boycott. “They can’t contain this group. It’s growing faster and bigger than they can imagine.”

For more information about the boycott, visit the Web sites of the workers’ coalition and the NCC and the boycott page of the PC(USA) site