University of Kansas student activists protest McDonald’s labor practices

LAWRENCE, Kan. (U-WIRE) – Lawrence, Kan., activist groups are battling a growing problem in the South – immigrant slavery.

About 20 members of the Lawrence Fair Food association and Apoyo Trabajador, a University of Kansas student group, fought the elements Friday at the East Sixth Street McDonald’s to protest the exploitation of farmers who supply tomatoes to the fast-food chain.

Students at the demonstration held a sign that read, “McDonald’s Dirty Laundry equals Farm workers’ Sweat and Blood.” Passing cars honked and the wind whipped their clothesline filled with filthy jeans and T-shirts, which represented impoverished conditions of the workers, but the demonstration continued.

Cory Fischer-Hoffman, a Philadelphia graduate student, said the demonstrators fought for the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a group of farmers in south Florida who gathered to fight for better wages. Many of those farmers are immigrants from Haiti, Central America and Mexico, looking for work to send money back to their families. The tomato farmers pick two tons of tomatoes to earn $50 for that workday, Fischer-Hoffman said.

“It’s an enormous amount of work just so the can survive,” Fischer-Hoffman said. “Their rights to organize are not protected by U.S. laws, and they’re taken advantage of by suppliers who know they can get away with paying workers low wages,”

Students in Apoyo Trabajador thought the demonstration was a good way to initiate for immigrant farmers.

“We hope that this helps call the attention of the decision makers at McDonald’s to actually do something about this,” said Mauricio Herrera, Alajuela, Costa Rica, graduate student.

Gary Vaughn, senior store manager for McDonald’s, declined to comment on the demonstration.

In April, Lawrence Fair Food and Apoyo Trabajador intend to travel to McDonald’s headquarters in Oak Brook, Ill., to protest for better wages and more integrity for immigrant farm workers.

“McDonald’s is such an important player in the fast-food industry that whatever kinds of changes they make can really set a precedent for other fast food corporations,” Fischer-Hoffman said. “They have the potential to support farm workers and we demand they use that power.”