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Sunday, May 19, 2024

The Burger King, decked out in a shiny red robe and a rubber mask, marched through Turlington Plaza Wednesday.

He was one of more than 50 protesters who marched from the Plaza of the Americas to the Burger King next to Broward Dining, where they delivered a letter outlining farm-worker complaints.

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a labor organization based out of Immokalee, Fla., led the protest.

The organization, which is on a nine-day tour across Florida, wants Burger King to pay one additional cent per pound of tomatoes to go toward pickers' salaries. Pickers get between 40 and 45 cents for 32 pounds of tomatoes.

"This is a demonstration in showing Burger King that people care," said Guadalupe Gomez, a leader with the group.

Gerardo Reyes, speaking through Gomez, who was translating, said the local Burger King should pass the letter along to executives.

"This fight is not against any worker at any Burger King or any restaurant," he said at the protest. He also encouraged protesters to each bring their own letters later.

The group has succeeded in getting the extra penny from McDonald's and Yum! Brands, which owns Taco Bell. They led a protest at the on-campus Taco Bell in 2004.

Burger King corporate spokesman Keva Silversmith said Burger King has increased the price it pays for tomatoes by 15 cents per pound since 2004.

If that money isn't going to the workers, he said, then he doesn't think the "penny per pound" idea will work better.

"I think it's not a good idea for them to come after Burger King because we are not involved," Silversmith said. "We do not pay their wages."

Norberto Jimenez, a member of the coalition who picks tomatoes in Immokalee, said in Spanish that at 43 cents a bucket, he must pick 2.5 tons of tomatoes a day to make minimum wage. He gets up at 4 a.m. to spend a 10- to 12-hour day filling 32-pound buckets of tomatoes.

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"We came because it was important enough to take this time to let our message be known," he said through a translator.

Spokesman Lucas Benitez also spoke through a translator.

"When you work in the fields every day, it's a sacrifice anyway," he said. "It's just another sacrifice."

Johnny Zokovitch, who first worked with the group in 2000, said he thinks Burger King will change soon. The coalition protested Taco Bell for four years, he said, but McDonald's for only two.

"If there's a pattern there, it's halved each time. We could be done with this by the better part of this year," he said.

For video of the protest, check alligator.org.

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