Last week I wrote about a Senate hearing on working conditions for tomato pickers inFlorida. Much of the discussion there revolved around the”penny-per-pound” deal, and the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange efforts to keepcorporations like Yum! Brands and McDonald’s from paying it to the farmworkers.
One corporation that has refused to pay the extra penny isBurger King, despite the fact that it would cost them only $250,000 annually , its competitors have agreed to do it, and for workers it’s the difference between a sub-poverty wage that hasn’t been raised in twenty years and a decent one.
And it looks like Burger King’s anti-labor activities run deeper thanjust its refusal to pay the extra cent. Amy Bennett Williams of theFort Myers News-Press wrote a story last week that tied Burger King to “libelous” attacks via email and online posts against the Coalition of Immokalee Workers— a respected anti-slavery group that has helped to prosecute six federal slavery cases and has been praised by the FBI, federal prosecutors, members of Congress, and civil rights organizations.
Even worse is an alleged attempt to infiltrate a key CIW ally, the Student/Farmworker Alliance, by using Diplomatic Tactical Services, “a security and investigative firm that advertises its ability toplace ‘operatives’ in the ranks of target groups.”
I contacted Burger King about all of these troubling issues. As for thepenny-per-pound deal, they have a new line they are selling for anyonewho wants to buy it–let’s call it the BKBS. Denise Wilson, SeniorAnalyst of Communications at Burger King headquarters, sent thisstatement via email: “At Burger King, we have always been interestedin finding a way to assure decent wages and modern working conditionsfor the tomato harvesters in Immokalee…. We urge the CIW toimmediately provide us with a copy of the YUM and McDonald’s agreements,repeatedly cited. Our ability to review the agreement is an importantfirst step in bringing this issue to a resolution and garnering our fullsupport.”
“That’s an argument aimed at the public, not at reaching a realsolution,” CIW staff member Greg Asbed said. “Our demands are listedfor all the world to see on the website, as are what Yum and McDonald’s agreed to. The only thing that is not posted on our website are thespecific details of how the Yum and McDonald’s agreements areimplemented within the differing contours of their supply chains ([thechain of companies that get tomatoes from the fields to theirrestaurants]). It is exactly those details that will need to be workedout with Burger King, as well. So, if they’re really interested in asolution, they have everything they need already.”
Seems reasonable that if the specific agreements can’t be provided,Burger King might be willing to use a template as a starting point fornegotiations with CIW?
Burger King declined to comment on that.
What about the allegations of emails and online posts as reported by theFort Myers News-Press? Did executives have any awareness of these–some of which were traced to Burger King Headquarters?
Again, declined to comment.
Okay, fine. Well, at the very least Burger King will clear up anyallegation of infiltration, right? Can it state for the record that noexecutives ever hired Diplomatic Tactical Services (or any otherinvestigative firm) to look into CIW and/or the Student/FarmworkerAlliance? And that they never received any reports from DiplomaticTactical Services or any other investigative firm regarding thesegroups?
You guessed it, declined to comment.
“We have given you our statement regarding our intention to work withthe CIW and help the farmworkers,” Wilson wrote in reply to thesequestions.
One wonders what Burger King knows if they can’t categorically denyallegations that are clearly a PR nightmare for the corporation and shareholders such as Bain Capital and Goldman Sachs.
It’s not just the hamburgers that are being grilled at Burger King thesedays.
Greg Kaufmann, a freelance writer residing in his disenfranchisedhometown of Washington, DC, contributed to this article.