Farm workers who toil to pick tomatoes for Burger King’s sandwiches earn 40 to 50 cents for every 32-pound bucket of tomatoes they pick, a rate that has not risen significantly in nearly 30 years. During a typical 10-hour day each migrant picks, carries, and unloads two tons of tomatoes giving them just enough piece work to earn close to minimum wage.
But instead of joining other fast-food chains who agreed in 2005 to pay an extra penny per pound for its tomatoes, as a piece by Michael Gould-Wartofsky at TheNation.com makes clear, this Christmas Burger King is working to undermine agreements that have been made with the Coalition for Immokalee Workers (CIW). As a result, already impoverished tomato pickers in Florida are facing the prospect of losing the first significant raise some of them have seen in nearly 30 years as tomato growers have been encouraged and emboldened to cancel deals already struck with Taco Bell and McDonald’s.
As the great muckraking writer Eric Schlosser wrote in a New York Times op-ed last November, “The prominent role that Burger King has played in rescinding the pay raise offers a spectacle of yuletide greed worthy of Charles Dickens. Burger King has justified its behavior by claiming that it has no control over the labor practices of its suppliers…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.”
BK’s callousness is driven home in this YouTube video, produced by the CIW, which powerfully details the difficulty of the work endured by these workers.
After watching this video, it should be clear that these workers aren’t asking for very much. A farm-labor activist coalition, led by the CIW and the Student-Farmworker Alliance, is now asking concerned citizens to tell Burger King to stop acting like Scrooge and to start paying farm workers fair wages. The Sojourners’ website has been devoting regular coverage to the issue and has created an action center from which you can email Burger King management and spread the word about the campaign.
As Schlosser concluded, asking Burger King to pay an extra penny for tomatoes and provide a decent wage to migrant workers would hardly bankrupt the company. Indeed, it would cost BK only $250,000 a year. At Goldman Sachs–the private equity firm that controls much of BK’s stock–that sort of money shouldn’t be too hard to find. In 2006, the bonuses of the top twelve Goldman Sachs executives exceeded $200 million — more than twice as much money as all of the roughly 10,000 tomato pickers in southern Florida earned that year.