US: Farmers not lovin' tomato-picking pay

McDonald's studying impact of penny-a-pound wage increase

Farmworker advocates crowded the sidewalk outside McDonald's flagship restaurant Saturday, demanding better wages for the people who pick the tomatoes used by the fast-food giant.

Police officers kept the drive-thru open at the busy downtown intersection as several hundred protesters pounded on drums and held signs that read "I'm Not Lovin' It" -- a play on McDonald's advertising slogan.

Rolando Sales, 26, said workers who must fill 125 buckets to make $50 a day are being exploited so that McDonald's can purchase tomatoes at a low price.

"We put food on the table for families all over this country," Sales said in Spanish. "We are asking McDonald's to take some responsibility as a corporation."

The rally was organized by the Florida-based Coalition of Immokalee Workers, which represents the largely Hispanic work force.

The coalition is urging consumers to pressure Oak Brook, Illinois-based McDonald's Corp. to support a campaign to boost wages for more than 3,000 Florida pickers. They're proposing a penny per pound increase in pay.

A McDonald's spokeswoman said Saturday the company was aware of the coalition's issues and had contracted an independent research group to study the farmworkers' conditions and the potential impact of their proposal.

McDonald's suppliers have told the company they will implement the penny per pound increase if the study concludes wages are currently inadequate, spokeswoman Lisa Howard said.

"They will make it up, retroactive to the beginning of the current growing season," Howard said.

Last year, the coalition won a commitment from Taco Bell's parent company Yum! Brands Inc. to pay more for its tomatoes -- a savings that has been passed on to the farmworkers.

But one of the company's suppliers says the demonstrators are misrepresenting the situation.

Jay Taylor, a McDonald's supplier who owns farms in Immokalee and other parts of Florida that employ anywhere between 700 and 1000 workers a day, called the coalition's description of the working conditions "disingenuous" and said the group has declined repeated invitations to discuss the problem.

AMP Section Name:Food and Agriculture
  • 184 Labor

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