Migrant farm workers in Florida earn 45 pennies for each 32 pound bucket of tomatoes they pick. A whopping 45 cents. And Burger King wants to reward them by giving them a 40% pay cut for Christmas.
In 2005, Florida tomato pickers gained their first significant pay raise since the late 1970s when Taco Bell ended a consumer boycott by agreeing to pay an extra penny per pound for its tomatoes, with the extra cent going directly to the farm workers. Last April, McDonald’s agreed to a similar arrangement, increasing the wages of its tomato pickers to about 77 cents per bucket. But Burger King, whose headquarters are in Florida, has adamantly refused to pay the extra penny — and its refusal has encouraged tomato growers to cancel the deals already struck with Taco Bell and McDonald’s.
And in case you don't think the immigration debate is worthy of much attention, here's one that should make you rush to one side or the other:
Migrant farm laborers have long been among America’s most impoverished workers. Perhaps 80 percent of the migrants in Florida are illegal immigrants and thus especially vulnerable to abuse. During the past decade, the United States Justice Department has prosecuted half a dozen cases of slavery among farm workers in Florida. Migrants have been driven into debt, forced to work for nothing and kept in chained trailers at night. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers — a farm worker alliance based in Immokalee, Fla. — has done a heroic job improving the lives of migrants in the state, investigating slavery cases and negotiating the penny-per-pound surcharge with fast food chains.
That's right. Slavery, right here in the Good 'ol US of A in the 21st century.
Back to the topic, though. The Florida Tomato Growers Exchange, which represents about 90% of the tomato growers in Florida, is making threats against any grower who accepts the extra $.01 for the workers.
Not sure how any of this fits together? Well, if Burger King hadn't refused to pay the extra penny, McDonalds and Taco Bell would not be backing out of their new agreements which amount to about $.77 per bucket, up from the current $.45.
Burger King has justified its behavior by claiming that it has no control over the labor practices of its suppliers. “Florida growers have a right to run their businesses how they see fit,” a Burger King spokesman told The St. Petersburg Times.
Yet the company has adopted a far more activist approach when the issue is the well-being of livestock. In March, Burger King announced strict new rules on how its meatpacking suppliers should treat chickens and hogs. As for human rights abuses, Burger King has suggested that if the poor farm workers of southern Florida need more money, they should apply for jobs at its restaurants.
I'm adding Burger King to my list of places not to spend money at. They're right up there with Wal-Mart, in my opinion.
If you'd like to do more, you can always write:
John W. Chidsey
Chief Executive Officer
Burger King Corporation
5505 Blue Lagoon Drive
Miami, Florida 33126
If you're an investor with Bain Capital, the Texas Pacific Group or Goldman Sachs Capital Partners, you should be aware that these three control most of the stock - which means that could be another avenue of action.
And, again, don't forget that buying local benefits you and your community. Check out this list of Food and Beverage companies from Local First. And if you know of businesses that should be on this list and aren't, encourage them to get listed.
(h/t Geekesque, one of my favorite Kossaks)