On Friday, around twenty-five people gathered outside of the Burger King restaurant on Pearl Street in downtown Grand Rapids to demand that Burger King pay more for the tomatoes that it uses in its products. The protestors leafleted people entering the restaurant and marched in front of the store while holding signs reading “One Penny More,” “Exploitation King,” and “Fair Food Now.”
Shortly after the protest began, the manager of the Burger King came out and told some of the protestors that it was a locally owned franchise and that he did not understand why they were targeting the restaurant. He was handed a leaflet and told about the reason for the protest, but said that there was “nothing he can do about it.”
The protest was held in solidarity with a march to Burger King’s corporate headquarters that took place on Friday in Miami. The march was part of an ongoing effort by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) demanding that Burger King pay more the tomatoes that its restaurants use. The CIW represents farm workers who pick tomatoes in the fields of South Florida, some of which are eventually sold to Burger King. While the CIW has been successful in getting Yum Brands (Taco Bell, A&W, KFC, Pizza Hut, and Long John Silver’s) and McDonald’s to recognize the exploitation of farm workers growing their tomatoes and agree to pay more, Burger King has refused. Instead, Burger King has aligned itself with the tomato growers and has launched a public relations effort designed to undercut the agreements with other restaurants. Burger King CEO John Chidsey has gone as far as to claim that farm workers do not live in poverty.
However, the CIW has been active in documenting and addressing exploitation in the fields, even uncovering cases of slavery. The CIW asserts that farm workers work in “sweatshop conditions.” Farm workers picking tomatoes are paid sub-poverty wages (roughly $10,000/year, according to the USDOL), have not received raises in nearly 30 years, workers must pick 2.5 tons of tomatoes to earn minimum wage for a typical 10-hour day, and are have no labor rights (including overtime pay or the right to organize).