Organizers of a protest estimated that 145 students went on hunger strikes spring semester to call on Notre Dame to stop doing business with Taco Bell.
The students, mostly members of the Progressive Student Alliance, were supporting a national boycott called by a farm workers group, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. The coalition says Taco Bell’s tomato suppliers pay unfair wages to migrant workers in Florida. It wants the restaurant chain to pressure the suppliers to pay a living wage.
Notre Dame’s only connection with Taco Bell is via the athletic department. This past year local Taco Bell franchises paid the University $50,000 for ads in game programs and spots during coaches’ radio shows, among other promotions. The parties were considering a $75,000 renewal for the coming academic year, but Notre Dame put off a decision on the deal while it waited for a response from Taco Bell’s parent company in regard to the concerns raised by students.
After multiple inquiries from Notre Dame officials, the parent company responded near the end of the semester with a letter describing its policies in regard to suppliers. After studying this response and sharing it with members of the Progressive Student Alliance, University attorneys decided to seek additional information from Taco Bell. The company had not replied as of mid-May, a University spokesman said.
Earlier spring semester a group of about 30 students arrived unannounced at the Main Building’s presidential office suite. They were hoping to get Father Malloy to issue a statement against renewing the Taco Bell contract. An assistant to the president explained that the administration was still waiting for a response from the company.
Organizers of the protest said participants pledged to go on hunger strikes in one- to three-day increments. The effort first gained widespread attention on campus in late March, when freshman Antonio Rivas went on a week-long hunger strike to coincide with a National Student Week of Action. Organizers later erected signs and strung banners across the South Quad and distributed printed information to passers-by. This prompted residents of one room in a male residence hall facing the quad to hang a mocking banner out their window reading “I Love Taco Bell.”
The Progressive Student Alliance has also called on Notre Dame to make Fair Trade Coffee, which pays growers a living wage, available in the dining halls. Food Services expects to make the coffee available starting this fall.