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Immokalee workers step up battle against Burger King

Published Jan 2, 2008 11:27 PM

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), an organization that represents farmworkers in central Florida, on Dec. 23 extended their struggle to workers at the Burger King restaurant in the Miami neighborhood of Aventura by holding a picket there. On Nov. 30, the CIW had led a nine-mile-long march of 1,500 workers and their supporters down to the Burger King corporate offices in Miami demanding a penny more per pound raise for the tomatoes they pick.

Immokalee farmworkers and supporters
march on the Burger King headquarters in Miami.
Photo: Andy Lin

The CIW has been waging fights against some of the largest U.S.-based fast food corporations. These farmworkers, who mostly pick tomatoes, are fighting to improve living and working conditions from what can only be called modern day slavery.

The first stop on the Nov. 30 march targeted Goldman Sachs, a large investment firm that owns a big portion of the BK Corporation’s stock and has executives sitting on BK Corporation’s board of directors. According to a Dec. 20, 2006, article in the New York Times, Lloyd C. Blankfein, chairman and chief executive of Goldman Sachs, was paid “a bonus of $53.4 million in 2006, the highest ever for a Wall Street chief executive” – most of it coming off of the backs of farmworkers.

Most of the farmworkers receive 40-to-45 cents for each 32-pound bucket of tomatoes that they pick. After a 10-hour workday, they would have to have picked up to 2 tons each in order to make a little over $50, barely making the minimum wage. These farmworkers have been working for the same rates since their last pay raise in 1978.

Paying the extra penny would only cost the multibillionaire fast-food giant $250,000 a year, yet they refuse to budge.

In 2005, the CIW led a national boycott against another fast food giant, Taco Bell. Workers and students all over the country joined in solidarity in a campaign known as “boot the bell” that included hunger strikes. This struggle forced Taco Bell to the negotiating table.

McDonald’s also came to the negotiating table last April in the face of possible protests or a boycott. Despite all of these advancements and the Nov. 30 historic nine-mile march, the Burger King bosses vow to resist the penny raise and preserve the living conditions in Florida’s fields.

But all is not grim, students and workers from several unions including the Teamsters, SEIU, CWA and UNITE HERE are joining the CIW in the fight to halt the decline in wages. The struggle for a penny more will escalate and even Burger King restaurant employees are joining the fight. At the Dec. 23 picket at the local Burger King restaurant in mostly the white upscale Aventura neighborhood, restaurant workers cheered the picketers and some even came out and joined the demonstrators.

Apparently, the Burger King employees were first told that they were going to be paid before Christmas, but on that Sunday they were told, “No paychecks until after Christmas.” So as the protest started to build the employees started to cheer from within the restaurant. When the chant, “No more slaves! Pay a living wage!” started, one worker even came outside to lead the chant.

The CIW is sending a full-time team back to Miami after the first of the year. So there will be a lot more actions coming up both here and around the U.S.

The writer is from the Bolivarian Youth in Miami, who have participated in the CIW actions.