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The Nation

Chipotle Hypocrisy

Peter Rothberg and Mica Schlosser

In recent years, Taco Bell and Burger King have foolishly resisted efforts by activists to marginally raise the piece rate they pay tomato pickers only to eventually buckle under the pressure of well-deserved bad press. Chipotle Mexican Grill seems to have learned nothing from their lessons.

Although Chipotle, the expanding Colorado-based restaurant chain formerly owned by McDonald's, touts its fair treatment of animals and its locally-sourced organic avocados, its colorful, interactive website neglects any mention of the fair treatment of farm workers. While CEO Steve Ells boasts about his "Food With Integrity" brand, he has ignored countless letters and petitions from all over the country, asking for an extra penny per pound for his tomato pickers.

Migrant pickers typically work ten to twelve hour days, earning a piece-rate of about forty-five cents for each thirty-two pound bucket of tomatoes. Work is never guaranteed, there is no health care, and no overtime pay. The average annual income for a farm worker is $10,000.

Or take this snapshot of the average workday of a Florida tomato picker (with credit to the fine blog, The Pump Handle):

*4:30am: Wake-up. Prepare lunch in your trailer.

*5:00am: Walk to the parking lot or pick-up site to begin looking for work.

*6:30am: With luck, a contractor will choose you to work for him for the day. The job may be 10 to 100 miles away.

*7:30am: Arrive at the fields and begin weeding or waiting while the dew evaporates from the tomatoes. You are usually not paid for this time.

*9:00am: Begin picking tomatoes--filling buckets, hoisting them on your shoulder, running them 100 feet or more to the truck and throwing the bucket up into the truck. Work fast because you must pick 2 TONS of tomatoes in order to earn $50 today.


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*Noon: Eat lunch as fast as you can, often with your hands soaked in pesticides. Return to work under the smoldering Florida sun.

*5:00pm: (sometimes later, depending on the season): Board bus to return to Immokalee.

Between 5:30 pm and 8:00 pm: Arrive in Immokalee and walk home.

(And the next day, get up and do it all again. Photos here)

Surely a company that took over $1 billion in annual sales last year can afford a modest raise request. Instead, Ells has tried to side-step the issue by looking to purchase tomatoes from places other than Florida.

Galvanizing the grassroots organizing by and for the Florida tomato pickers is the same group that led the successful fights against Taco Bell and Burger King -- the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), founded in 1993 as a "community-based worker organization" with members from diverse backgrounds, in low-wage agricultural jobs throughout Florida.

On Friday afternoon, August 8th, the CIW along with hundreds of members of United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) will be in Denver at Chipotle's corporate headquarters to demand that the restaurant chain work to ensure fairer wages and more humane working conditions for farmworkers. If you're in the Denver area, please join what should be a large and powerful action. if you're not, see what you can do to help the campaign, which has garnered the attention of Congress, with lawmakers earlier this year calling for the Government Accountabilty Office to launch an investigation into working conditions.

CIW's website is filled with details on the demonstration, sample letters to Steve Ells, and other ways that you can do something for some of the poorest and hardest working people in America, including urging Chipotle customers to print out this letter and hand it to the manager at your local Chipotle restaurant. The CIW has gone up against Goliath before and won. With dedication and solidarity, this fight can also be won.

Peter Rothberg writes the ActNow column for the The Nation. ActNow aims to put readers in touch with creative ways to register informed dissent. Co-written and researched by Mica Schlosser.

Copyright © 2008 The Nation

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