One hundred tomatoes were delivered to various members of PSU faculty and staff yesterday in a move intended to raise awareness of the campus boycott against Taco Bell.
It was hoped that the letters attached to the tomatoes would help "mobilize staff who support the boycott," according to PSU Progressive Student Union coordinator Lew Church.
The boycott at Portland State began two years ago with the aim of removing Taco Bell from the school’s food court. The effort spawned from concerns that employees of the Six L’s Packing Company in Florida, a principal supplier of Taco Bell’s tomatoes, pay their employees low wages and offer no overtime or benefits.
The boycott on campus is part of a national boycott that was begun in April 2001 by a Florida-based farmworker organization called The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW).
According to the CIW, Six L’s employees receive under 50 cents per 32-pound bucket of tomatoes, the same rate they were paid 20 years ago. Employees make an average of $7,500 a year.
Church was quick to mention that none of the tomatoes used in the demonstration had been grown in Florida.
Among the first to receive tomatoes were university President Bernstine and Cathy Dyck, associate vice president of finance. Neither was present in their office to receive them. The other recipients ranged from heads of departments to adjunct professors whose names were plucked from the faculty and staff directory.
The $200 worth of tomatoes were decorated with glitter paint and covered in boycott slogans such as "End the Contract" and "Make PSU a Taco Bell Free Zone."
Each tomato was accompanied by a letter explaining the boycott and urging supporters to email Bernstine or Dyck and persuade them to break PSU’s contract with Taco Bell.
Church said that the demonstration was similar to one performed at University of Chicago, in which activists succeeded in removing the restaurant from the campus in 2002.
Nine student groups at PSU are currently endorsing the boycott, including Campus Ministries, College Democrats, Green Party and OSPIRG.
Church hopes to generate more endorsements from both student groups and faculty and to eventually enter into negotiations with administrators to permanently remove Taco Bell from PSU.
Eight colleges in the United States, including UCLA and California State at San Bernardino, have effectively removed Taco Bell from their campuses, according to the letter attached to the tomatoes.
Though the turnout of five students was relatively small, Church considers today’s demonstration a success. "It let staff and teachers know specific information about the boycott," he said.