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CBS' 'A Fair Harvest' explores religious response
to immigration issues, including farm labor boycotts

New York, April 6, 2006 -- A FAIR HARVEST: RELIGIONS RESPONSE TO IMMIGRATION ISSUES, an interfaith religion special, will be released to CBS affiliates nationwide on Sunday, April 23 (at 8-8:30 AM, ET; 5-5:30 PT) by the CBS Television Network.  Local times will vary. 

Appearing on the program will be the Rev. Bob Edgar, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches USA, and the Rev. George Anderson, an editor of the Jesuit magazine, America, to add their perspective to the religious response to immigration issues. 

A FAIR HARVEST is a special religious program produced in cooperation with the National Council of Churches, The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and a consortium of Jewish and Muslim organizations. 

It reports  fresh attempts to achieve dignity for migrant farm-workers. In the years since the CBS Reports special, Harvest of Shame (1960) pointed out the slave wages and deplorable working conditions of migrant workers, there has been steady but very slow progress to right the wrongs. Still even today, most farm-workers, mostly foreign-born, are paid about as much as they earned 30 years ago. On the national level, attitudes and laws regarding migrants change from one administration to the next.  

The broadcast deals with two stories in which the National Council of Churches was deeply involved. One, in southwest Florida (Immokalee), is about a group of tomato pickers from Central America and Haiti who organized their own workers' coalition.  

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers staged hunger strikes, marches across Florida and many other unsuccessful attempts at bringing attention to abuse of workers, very low pay per pound of tomatoes picked and other issues. When the growers and owners would not ever speak with them, they hit on the idea of boycotting Taco Bell, which buys 10 million pounds of winter tomatoes from Florida growers. Local churches came on board and national church organizations followed, helping the Coalition to organize "truth marches". This gave exposure to the workers in settings across the country to state their case, present a human face, and encourage church members to avoid buying from Taco Bell.  

The boycott, stimulated and publicized by the NCC, caused Taco Bell (owned by the Yum Brands) little financial damage but a good deal of bad press. They responded with a modest  $100,000 a year to be sent to the farmers for distribution to the pickers who pick Taco Bell tomatoes. This actually doubled their wages from 1.3 cents a pound to 2.3 cents and brought their two-ton a day yield to perhaps $90 from the $50 they had earned before. Their next move was toward McDonalds, which buys perhaps several times as many pounds of tomatoes from south Florida as Taco Bell; if it agrees to another penny a pound migrant wages could "skyrocket"- relatively speaking. 

Another story touched upon is the Mt. Olive Pickle Company in North Carolina. With help from the National Council of Churches, local councils and the Catholic Diocese of Raleigh cucumber pickers in the Mt. Olive area succeeded in getting a boost in wages for the cucumbers they pick for Mt. Olive, which is a national brand and supplier of pickles.                                                                          

The migrant farm-workers dignity and fairness issues are vividly presented by: Robert Mendez and Eucebio Rodriguez, two Guatemalans in their early 20's, both full-time pickers and part-time union activists for the Coalition. In addition we hear from  Lucas Benitez, a picker of oranges and tomatoes for 13 years before helping to found the Coalition. Adding their experience are  Father Joe Clifford, pastor of St. Columbkille Catholic Church (Ft. Myers); Rev Jim Boler, (Sanibel Is.) United Church of Christ; Rev. Noelle Damico, liaison between the national Presbyterian Church and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers; and Bert Perry, of the National Farm-workers Ministry.   

John P. Blessington is the executive producer of the special; Ted Holmes is the producer.

Press Contact: Jeremy Murphy, 212-975-4577,

See related stories:

2005 Faith-Based Taco Bell Truth Tour to Demand 'Fair Food'
NCC hails end of Taco Bell Boycott 
NCC Calls on Fast Food chains to act like Taco Bell 
NCC disappointed in McDonalds



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