Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Laborers start week of protests against McDonald's

By Dominick E. Tao
Alligator Writer

The same group of farm workers that succeeded in a boycott against Taco Bell in 2005 is now targeting McDonald's, and their first protest was under the golden arches on Northwest 13th Street.

On Sunday, more than 50 members of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, an organization of Florida farm laborers, demanded increased wages for workers who pick tomatoes for McDonald's.

"The CIW influenced Taco Bell. If McDonald's doesn't heed the warning, another national boycott might change things," said Jonathan Skeet Surrency, 19, a protester from Gainesville.

The coalition is on a weeklong, nationwide tour calling for McDonald's to pressure its tomato suppliers to pay its workers "one cent more" per pound for the tomatoes they pick.

They hope this tour will be as successful as their 2005 Taco Bell boycott, which resulted in an agreement with Taco Bell's parent company to raise workers' profits from 40 cents to 72 cents for each bucket of tomatoes.

Even though the protesters' chants were in Spanish, their colorful signs were clear.

"Sub-poverty wages make me grimace," was written across the chest of a distressed-looking cutout of Grimace, one of McDonald's mascots.

"I'm not lovin' it," read another.

Translated, one of their chants was "The Clown. You're lying. You're buying cheap tomatoes."

But representatives from McDonald's Corp. said the company is not contributing to unfair labor practices.

"The coalition needs to take a hard look at what our suppliers are doing," said William Whitman, McDonald's Corp.'s director of media relations.

Whitman said the company's suppliers abide by standards that already meet or exceed the coalition's current demands.

Most of the protesters are Hispanic farm workers from Immokalee, Fla., an agricultural community near Alligator Alley.

They are taking time off work to picket in the weeklong tour, said Julia Perkins, one of the coalition's organizers.

"It's important for the workers to come out and have their voices heard," Perkins said.

"They chose to leave work to do this."

Protester Michael Phelan, a part-time Florida resident from Maine, said McDonald's is targeting college students with its products.

"Students should know where their money's going," he said.

On Saturday, the coalition plans to picket outside the rock 'n' roll-themed McDonald's restaurant in downtown Chicago. The coalition will be joined by several other groups, said Calendario Vasquez, one of the coalition's organizers.


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