Monday, January 24, 2005

BLESSED ARE THOSE... pt. 2

BLESSED ARE THE PEACEMAKERS Posted by Hello

Matthew 5: 9-10; 9‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

I recently read a post at Shane Raynor's Blog, The Wesley Blog, entitled "Can't I just Order Tacos Without Tomatoes?". The post basically is questions whether or not it is effective for the United Methodist Church to boycott Taco Bell because of the low wages Taco Bell pays to it's South Florida Tomato Farmers. His basic argument is this:
"...the Taco Bell employees who depend on their jobs to feed families and pay college tuition. Unfortunately, as far as the radical left is concerned, all corporations are Satan and they must be cast down. The truth is, Taco Bell is made up of plenty of ordinary people. Yum! Brands stock is also owned by lots of main street Americans- much of it in retirement accounts. Is it smart (or Christian) to screw over a lot of people (many who are poor themselves) to help a few? "
Raynor's argument is a fairly weak one that, in my opinion, does not take the issue seriously. What this boycott is really about is STANDING ALONGSIDE THE DISPOSSESSED. Jesus used the phrase "blessed are the peacemakers", and "blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake". Standing alongside people, like the Immokalee Farmers, is part of the Christian call to discipleship. I am one of the priveledged- socially, and economically (as I imagine Raynor is). I am not persecuted, so the question becomes- what is my responsibility as a Child of God? Part of it is to stand alongside those in my community who are oppressed. So I am called to be a Peacemaker- to stand alongside.
The reality is- my not participating in eating at Taco Bell, along with every other United Methodist (or other groups boycotting as well) is not going to hurt the employees who are working at Taco Bell, in fact, according to a recent article in USA Today low wage jobs are increasing at a fast pace. What boycotting Taco Bell will do is send a message that all people deserve a "living wage".
According to the Florida Department of Labor, the Immokalee Farmers' " average wage (40 cents per 32 pound bucket) has not changed in more than 20 years.” Six L’s Packing Co., one of the largest U.S. tomato growers, has been cited by the coalition in particular for exploiting its workers."
I have to admit that I have eaten at Taco Bell, even within the last two weeks, with my senior pastor. It happens to be our favorite meeting place to discuss ministry. But after reading Raynor's post I began looking into the issue more closely and I have to admit that I feel convicted to speak out on this matter; simply because my faith invites me to stand alongside those whom I see as dispossessed. I will not be eating at Taco Bell until the Immokalee Farmers feel they are getting fair wages for what they provide (however I still will probably poke fun at social issues that we stand for in the UM Church, that's just who I am:) So I invite you to consider looking at issues such as the boycotting of Taco Bell not as another looney venture by liberals in a certain denomination, but look at it from the perspective of those people that live day to day on slave wages.
So whether you consider yourself a conservative Christian, a liberal Christian, or just a middle of the road (barefoot Methodist) like myself, "the LORD God has told us what is right and what he demands: "See that justice is done, let mercy be your first concern, and humbly obey your God." - Micah 6:8
Shalom all,
St.Phransus

9 comments:

gavin richardson said...

excellent points j-norm. i will have to reexamine my eating at the TB. i have known about the boycott for some time and i just want to make one statement for extended conversation. where does it stop? or does it?

if we are boycotting TB because of their low wages to their tomato farmers.. is not TB owned by Pepsi, and then doesn't Pepsi own Pizza Hut? maybe my rationalization is far fetched here, but do we not need to identify all the players if we are going to thoroughly stand up as peacemakers?

hopefully this TB boycott won't last as long as the Mt. Olive Pickle boycott. i don't know if i can take it.

Kevin Rector said...

Ok, first of all, I don't eat Taco Bell because they don't have any food that is even remotely healthy and I'm trying to be healthy.

Second of all, a few questions:

a) Why do people continue to pick tomatoes if it's such an incredibly horrid occupation where you can't get a raise? Why don't they get a job doing something else?
b) If we put the tomato growers out of business, where will the tomato pickers work?
c) Does reducing the number of tomatos for the tomato growers to sell (with the consequent result of reducing their need for tomato pickers) benefit or harm the tomato pickers of the world?
d) Why is having to work very hard for your money and also not making very much money considered "being disposessed"?
e) Are the tomato pickers experiencing an epedemic of them and their families falling down dead from starvation or exposure? If not, wouldn't that indicate that they make a wage sufficient at the very least for them to live? How is this wage that allows them to live not a "living wage"?
f) Are you planning on reducing your overall tomato purchasing, and if so will that be good or bad for people who make a living picking tomatos?
g) Why is standing alongside a tomato picker who makes about minimum wage (or maybe more depending on how efficent he or she can work) better or more important than standing alongside a Taco Bell employee who makes minimum wage?
h) Do the tomato pickers actually make "slave wages"? Aren't slave wages $0? If a worker makes $.42 per bucket isn't it safe to say that $.42 per bucket is definitely more that $0?
i) Do all Immokalee Farmers feel that they don't recieve a fair wage? If so why are there so many still working at tomato picking? In not, how will you know when you can safely go back to Taco Bell?

Understand man, I am not taking issue with your position per se. I just think that there are a number of issues that get glossed over in the publicity of the boycot.

Just a few rambling thoughts from a tired brain.

Anonymous said...

Kevin,
I want to answer each of your questions to the best of my ability, but in the end what I offer is that I felt compelled to act on behalf to STAND ALONGSIDE, which in the end whether practical/rational/justified or not, it will seem foolish to some and inspiring to others.

Now then to answer:
Q1: Why do people continue to pick tomatoes if it's such an incredibly horrid occupation where you can't get a raise? Why don't they get a job doing something else?

A: Southwest Florida is the state's most important center for agricultural production, and Immokalee is the state's largest farmworker community. As such, the majority of our more than 2,500 members work for large agricultural corporations in the tomato and citrus harvests, traveling along the entire East Coast following the harvest in season. Many local residents, and thus many of our members, move out of agriculture and into other low wage industries that are important in our area, including the construction, nursery, and tourist industries. The community is split, roughly, along the following ethnic/national origin lines: Mexican 50%, Guatemalan 30%, Haitian 10% and other nationalities (mostly African-American) 10%.

The reality is that the industry is controlled by Yum Brands, the world's largest restaurant company, which pools the buying power of it's five major chain brands (Pizza Hut, KFC, and Taco Bell) to demand the lowest possible prices from their suppliers, exerting a powerful downward pressure on wages and working conditions in their suppliers' opporation.


Q2: If we put the tomato growers out of business, where will the tomato pickers work?

A: I'm not sure where you're going with this one, but if there were no more tomatos to pick, I believe there would be other jobs for the farmers (see the answer to Q1), but they still fall into low wage jobs.

Q3: Does reducing the number of tomatos for the tomato growers to sell (with the consequent result of reducing their need for tomato pickers) benefit or harm the tomato pickers of the world?

A: The CIW, Coalition of Immokolee Workers, who are made up of the Immokolee farmers, have chosen this as their method of organizing and creating a voice for themselves. I don't think they'd shoot themselves in the foot. They have asked groups to speak out on their behalf in hopes of gaining a voice to their employer.


Q4: Why is having to work very hard for your money and also not making very much money considered "being disposessed"?

A: It doesn't. What makes you dispossed is being part of a group of people who are oppressed or marginalized. I know we like to think that it doesn't happen in the grand ole' US of A, but groups/communities of people are taken advantage of. For example, according to the Washington Post, 2001: "IMMOKALEE, Fla. -- Romeo Ramirez came here from Guatemala, via Mexico, sneaking into the United States when he was 17 to pick tomatoes. Not long after he got here, he joined the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, an advocacy group working to improve the lives of thousands of migrant workers in this swath of swampy South Florida.

Not long after joining the coalition, Ramirez went undercover at the behest of federal prosecutors investigating some of the contractors who supply migrant workers to farmers. The contractors sometimes beat the workers and forced them to live and work at gunpoint. Last year, as a result of testimony from Ramirez and two other workers, three of the contractors near here were convicted in U.S. District Court on slavery and extortion charges and sentenced to a total of 34 years in prison.



CIW's Lucas Benitez saved the bloodstained shirt of a worker he saw beaten in 1996. He said slave-like conditions haven't gone away. "I saw people being threatened, and I saw that they couldn't leave," Ramirez, 23, said in an interview, speaking in Spanish. "It was injustice." " end.

For additional stories, see the article at the St. Petersburg Times: http://www.sptimes.com/2002/12/01/State/Fear_and_knowing_in_I.shtml

Q5: Are the tomato pickers experiencing an epedemic of them and their families falling down dead from starvation or exposure? If not, wouldn't that indicate that they make a wage sufficient at the very least for them to live? How is this wage that allows them to live not a "living wage"?

A: Let's start with wages. From the Immokolee Workers: "By 1998, we had won industry-wide raises of 13-25% (translating into several million dollars annually for the community in increased wages) and a new-found political and social respect from the outside world.

Those raises brought the tomato picking piece-rate back to pre-1980 levels (the piece-rate had fallen below those levels over the course of the intervening two decades), but wages remained below poverty level and continuing improvement was slow in coming." The definition for Living Wage is as follows: "A wage sufficient to meet the basic needs of a worker and their dependents." According to the Center for the Advancement of Human Rights and at FSU, they believe Florida to be one of the top three destinations for Human Traffickers. According to a CNN Report: "The center's report emphasized that not all victims of human trafficking are illegal immigrants. Many enter the United States legally but because of their poverty or inability to speak English are exploited by traffickers." My understanding is that the traffickers sell the slaves as farmers to contracters who then get bids by the corporations.

I suggest checking out the worker's living conditions:
http://www.ciw-online.org/images/images.html

Q6: Are you planning on reducing your overall tomato purchasing, and if so will that be good or bad for people who make a living picking tomatos?

A: No I'm not. The boycott is targetted at Yum Brand Restaurant Corp. who has control of that specific region of tomato farmers.

Q7: Why is standing alongside a tomato picker who makes about minimum wage (or maybe more depending on how efficent he or she can work) better or more important than standing alongside a Taco Bell employee who makes minimum wage?

A: It may or may not be better. It may or may not be more important, but here is what I think. Areas where low wage workers are employed by fast food industry have at least minimal choices and are monitored by a legal system that for the most part works.

This "group" of people that is separted by certain barriers- language, immigration,etc.., are at the mercy of the contractors and employers. Maybe the attention by those who are boycotting and speaking out will bring enough attention that the Dept. of Labor will look into this matter more closely and actually take more action.

Q7: Do the tomato pickers actually make "slave wages"? Aren't slave wages $0? If a worker makes $.42 per bucket isn't it safe to say that $.42 per bucket is definitely more that $0?

A: This justifies SLAVE LABOR: In August 2001 three Florida growers were sentenced for holding 700 fruit pickers in involuntary servitude. At a camp in Lake Placid, Florida, people were kept under constant surveillance, crammed four to a single room, denied their rightful pay, and pistol-whipped into submission. "People knew conditions were better in other places, but they were afraid," said CIW's Ramírez, who went undercover to investigate the case. "They knew [the growers] could be violent."

The growers were sentenced to more than a decade each in prison. But US District Court Judge K. Michael Moore recognized culpability was not contained only within his courtroom. "It seems that there are others at another level in this system of fruit picking—at a higher level—that to some extent are complicit in one way or another in how these activities occur."

Would you feel that you were getting what you deserved if you lived this lifestyle?

Q8: Do all Immokalee Farmers feel that they don't recieve a fair wage? If so why are there so many still working at tomato picking? In not, how will you know when you can safely go back to Taco Bell?

A: I don't know if all Immokalee Farmers feel this way. I assume that most do. Did all slaves in pre-civil war times feel they were being ill treated? Some who were born during plantation times and had Owners who were civil toward them may have felt that they were being treated fairly.

I believe that the Coalition of I.F. represents most all of the farmers and how they feel as a community. Like I originally stated- I'll go back to Taco Bell when the coalition feels that they have succeeded in their cause.

For further reflection: check out John Wesley's thoughts on slavery http://gbgm-umc.org/umw/wesley/thoughtsuponslavery.stm

Shalom brother

St.Phransus said...

Oops, that anonymous post above is me- Jonathon. Who else would be that long winded?

sorry,
Jonathon/St.Phransus

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