’04 Eckerd College Hunger Strike

From Eckerd College newspaper, “The Triton”:

Hunger strike for justice

By Emily Morganstein
Design Manager

On April 19-23, at least 82 students pledged not to eat for at least one day in honor of a five-day hunger strike by a small group of students who were supporting the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.

Members of the Alliance for Concerned Individuals, an ECOS club, have been boycotting Taco Bell in support of the Coalition for quite some time, previously protesting and striking outside the restaurant on 34th St. S. The hunger strike, a new tactic, was led by ACI members Jill Braly and Matt Flege.

“I lead this endeavor because I was inspired by the strength of the Immokalee people and the worthiness of their cause. I believe one of the best ways to fight injustice is to spread awareness and knowledge about the issues, enabling people to make responsible decisions,” commented Braly.

Before the strike, press releases were sent to Bay News 9 and the St. Petersburg Times, among many other media. The press release noted one of the reasons some of the students decided to hunger strike: “Students at Eckerd recently visited Immokalee on an Alternative Spring Break trip, where they spent a day working in the fields.”

In the press release, Flege said, “No one could see these conditions with their own eyes and not take action. Farmworkers work from dawn to dusk seven days a week to feed this nation and still receive sub-poverty wages— this has to change.”

Flege added, “In general, our objectives for the hunger strike were: solidarity with the other schools across the country; raising awareness on campus; and working with the administration on getting an official endorsement of the boycott on Taco Bell from Eckerd.”

During the week, Eckerd College community members signed petitions to Eckerd College as well as Yum! Brands (which controls Taco Bell, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Long John Silver’s, and A&W Family Restaurants) for its support of the Coalition’s requests of Taco Bell.

In general, according to a Coalition fact sheet, the CIW is asking Taco Bell to “use its considerable leverage as a major buyer of Florida tomatoes to help bring about real changes in the wages and working conditions of the farmworkers who pick tomatoes.” Specifically, the Coalition is requesting that Taco Bell:

1. Convene a meaningful, three-part dialogue—bringing together representatives of Taco Bell, their Florida tomato suppliers, and representatives of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers—to discuss solutions to the problems farmworkers face in Florida’s fields.

2. Contribute to an immediate increase in farmworker wages through a raise in the per pound rate Taco Belk pays for tomatoes from its Florida suppliers. (For example, a penny per pound increase, passed on in its entirety to the workers, could nearly double the current piece rate for tomatoes picked for Taco Bell.)

3. Join with the CIW and tomato industry representatives in drafting a Code of Conduct for Taco Bell tomato suppliers that would define strict wage and working condition standards to be required of all Taco Bell tomato suppliers. Such a code would necessarily require respect for pickers’ fundamental labor rights, including the right to a living wage and overtime,
and the right to organize without fear of retaliation.

The requests to the Eckerd College administration by the hunger strikers came in four parts:

1. Eckerd College will officially endorse the ongoing boycott of Taco Bell and Yum! Products.

2. Eckerd College will not allow the Taco Bell chain of restaurants or its affiliated products on our campus, unless Taco Bell complies with the Coalition of Immokalee Worker’s list of demands.

3. Eckerd College administration will contact Yum! Brands and inform them of their endorsement of the Taco Bell boycott, as well as their support of farm worker justice.

4. Eckerd College administration will contact other striking schools, informing them of our support of their students’ efforts to kick Taco Bell of their campuses.

Dean of Students Jim Annarelli and Executive Assistant to the President Lisa Mets worked with Flege and ACI Co-President Craig Altemose to determine the College’s official position regarding those requests.

According to Annarelli, “Overall, the College’s position is that it doesn’t take official ‘positions’ on these issues because the Board’s support would be needed.” However, he added that he and Mets agreed, “the community supports a student’s involvement in movements that further social justice and human rights for all workers.”

Also, Annarelli mentioned that the College tries to be aware of these types of issues not only when they’re brought to the forefront by a demonstration such as this hunger strike, but also on a regular basis, citing the work of the food service committee at Eckerd to bring in a new
dining services corporation which has a great record on social justice and ecological issues.

The week ended with a “breaking of the fast” rally on April 23 at 12:45 p.m. in front of the Pub where at least 20 students at all times participated, with others coming and going.

The only strikers that lasted all five days were Meghan Cohorst, Meredith Cox, Matt Flege, Ainslee McAndrews, Elizabeth Mount and Fran Parmigian. ACI members were warned by Counseling and Health Services of the dangers of hunger striking when word spread of the plans.