Word of Mouth

Denver Fair Food and Coalition of Immokalee Workers target Quizno's

Quizno's is not having the best Friday.

Denver Fair Foods showed up at the corporate offices of the Denver-based chain to protest today, calling out the sandwich maker for buying produce from suppliers with unsound labor practices. Denver Fair Foods works in direct partnership with the Coalition for Immokalee Workers (CIW), which was established to address a very real problem: defending the rights of the (mostly) migrant workers who are paid next to nothing for picking tomatoes in Florida. According to Robert McGoey, a DFF spokesman, those farmworkers make just forty to fifty cents per 32-pound bucket of tomatoes picked, with an annual take of $10,000 to $12,000.

After struggling to make a dent in the highly organized producers, the CIW changed tacks, picketing companies that buy tomatoes from Florida so that those enterprises would turn the screws in their supply chains and help force change. And that's where things get complicated.

The CIW asks the companies they target for three things: that they pay a penny more per pound of tomatoes purchased and ensure it goes directly to the laborers, that they develop a code of conduct and hold their tomato suppliers to it, and that they involve the workers in making sure the first two stipulations happen.

What sounds simple rarely is. The CIW's first target was Yum Brands, the owner of Taco Bell. After years of protests and boycotts, the company finally succumbed to the deal. Subsequently, the CIW signed on McDonald's and Burger King using similar tactics before turning to retailers. Without the growers on board, though, distributing that penny per pound to laborers wasn't so simple. Without writing a check for each member of the workforce, companies had little outlet to ensure the price increase was actually passed along.

Boycotting Florida producers altogether until they could prove they had sound labor practices wasn't an option approved by the CIW, either-- they defined that as disengagement. Which meant that some companies felt they were bowing to a bullying force -- without really solving the problem.

Now that the organization has critical mass, that part of the equation is getting easier. The CIW has signed on producers, including one of the largest, Pacific Tomato Growers, that agree to pass along the wage increase to laborers, with audits by a third party. So now when a company accepts the terms of the CIW, it's linked into that network.

As for Quizno's, Denver Fair Foods says it has been in negotiations with the company since May, but progress hasn't been coming fast enough. And that's why the group is out protesting today, in hopes that hitting the corporation in the wallet will hasten plans.

Quizno's could feel a little toasted right now.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Laura Shunk was Westword's restaurant critic from 2010 to 2012; she's also been food editor at the Village Voice and a dining columnist in Beijing. Her toughest assignment had her drinking ten martinis and eating ten Caesar salads over the course of 48 hours. She still drinks martinis, but remains lukewarm on Caesar salads.
Contact: Laura Shunk