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Tomato Pickers’ Wages Fight Faces Obstacles

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IMMOKALEE, Fla. — In a colorful, often clamorous pressure campaign that has relied on support from college campuses and church groups, a group of farmworkers has persuaded McDonald’s and Taco Bell to have their tomato suppliers pay their pickers more.

But the workers’ efforts have recently collided with two big obstacles. Burger King has rejected the demands to have its tomato suppliers pay higher wages, and the main group of Florida tomato growers — calling the farmworkers’ tactics “un-American” — has threatened a $100,000 fine against growers that cooperate with McDonald’s or Yum Brands, the parent of Taco Bell, to pay their pickers more.

“The only way you can describe this industry is the way it was described 40 years ago: It’s a harvest of shame,” said Lucas Benitez, a co-founder of the farmworkers’ group, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. “The wages are so low that a lot of workers are just surviving.”

Steve Grover, vice president for food safety and regulatory compliance at Burger King, said his company rejected the coalition’s demands because it did not employ the pickers directly and did not know how it would pay them, withhold their taxes or determine their immigration status.

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Tomato Pickers’ Wages Fight Faces Obstacles