MIAMI Hundreds of demonstrators, many wearing T-shirts reading "Burger King exploits farmworkers," staged a noisy protest at the fast-food giant's Miami headquarters on Friday to press demands for a penny-a-pound pay increase for tomato pickers.
Burger King is the latest target in a long campaign by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers that successfully pressured restaurant giants McDonald's Corp and Yum Brands Inc to pay an extra penny per pound (0.45 kg) to pickers.
Organizers said as many as 1,000 workers and supporters joined a meandering 9 1/2-mile march through the streets of Miami. Protest leaders climbed onto a flatbed truck to exhort protesters, whose T-shirts bore a modified Burger King logo that read "Exploitation King."
The workers want Burger King to sign a code of conduct to protect workers' rights in addition to the pay hike.
CIW spokeswoman Julia Perkins also said Burger King has been actively working to end the Yum and McDonalds pacts, and workers were demanding they stop.
"It's like stealing, just stealing what they won," she said. "They are actually working to take those gains away."
In a written statement, Burger King called the CIW's penny-per-pound slogan a catch phrase that "failed to provide any solutions for the real issues facing farm workers" and said the group had not explained how the additional pay, spread over thousands of workers, would meaningfully increase wages.
"Burger King does not tolerate worker exploitation anywhere in its supply chain," the company said.
The CIW, which came to prominence in the 1990s by exposing a series of farm worker abuses and human trafficking cases, won a penny-per-pound agreement with fast food chain Taco Bell and its parent, Yum Brands, in 2005.
McDonald's, the world's largest fast-food chain, agreed in April to pay the additional penny for Florida tomatoes. The Carter Center, founded by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, helped broker the deal.
Florida is the source of more than 90 percent of the fresh winter tomatoes produced in the United States.
At the time of the McDonald's deal, the CIW said the extra penny would raise pickers' wages to 77 cents for each 32-pound (14.5 kg) bucket of tomatoes they picked, effectively a 71 percent wage hike.
Cruz Salucio, a 23-year-old Immokalee picker from Guatemala, said pickers can't make enough money to take care of their families and are often abused. He demanded the company sign the code of conduct to "respect workers' human rights."
"They keep denying what the truth is. They deny the abuses," he said. "But they are just lying."
(Editing by Michael Christie and Eric Walsh)