1:10 A.M. — Burger King is investigating online postings made by one of its vice presidents vilifying the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.
Steven Grover, the fast food chain's vice president of food safety, quality assurance and regulatory compliance, used his young daughter's online alias to make derogatory comments about the farm worker group, which is asking the restaurant chain to raise tomato pickers' pay by a penny a pound.
The News-Press used information readily available online to connect the comments to Grover's daughter, who confirmed last month that her father made them.
"Senior management of the company had no knowledge of Grover's postings," Burger King spokeswoman Denise Wilson said in a statement e-mailed to the Associated Press. "These comments were not sanctioned by the company and they do not reflect the opinion of the company.
"We are conducting an internal investigation, and appropriate disciplinary action will be taken."
Grover did not respond to a phone call and an e-mail from The News-Press asking for comment. Wilson had not responded to additional questions from The News-Press by the end of the business day Monday; most of the company's executives are at the Burger King Global Convention in Orlando, Wilson said, and she did not provide cell phone numbers for Grover or CEO John Chidsey.
The Associated Press also reported that it received an e-mail in January that leaked a memo from Grover warning that it might stop buying Florida tomatoes. The AP traced the e-mail's Internet protocol address to Burger King corporate headquarters in Miami. The e-mail's address - email@example.com - was the same one used by someone claiming to be a student at the University of Virginia asking the Student/Farmworker Alliance - a key coalition ally - to be included in organizational meetings and conference calls, said member Marc Rodrigues.
But when Rodrigues wrote back asking for a physical address to which he could send a packet, stopcorporategreed never responded.
A few months later, Rodrigues fielded an almost identical request - this time from Cara Schaffer, claiming to be a student at Broward Community College. Schaffer said she wanted to organize campus events to support the group and she asked to listen in on alliance conference calls, which she did twice, Rodrigues said.
Schaffer actually owns Diplomatic Tactical Services, a Hollywood, Fla.-based security and investigative firm that advertises its ability to place operatives in the ranks of target groups. She does not hold a private investigator's license; it was denied last year because she failed to prove she had experience or training.
Repeated calls to Schaffer were not returned.
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services' Division of Licensing, which regulates private investigators, is now looking into the matter, said investigator Keith Robinson.
To the question of whether Burger King or anyone within Burger King hired Diplomatic Tactical Services to infiltrate the Coalition of Immokalee Workers or any of their allied groups, Wilson sent an e-mail statement:
"Thank you for your calls. We have no further comment."
Rodrigues said he's not surprised at the AP's revelation that the stopcorporategreed e-mail came from Burger King.
"This pretty much makes clear what we've suspected to be the case all along," he said.
Burger King has said it's open to responsible suggestions for improvement and that it has a strong vendor code of conduct that mandates zero tolerance for worker exploitation and abuse. But it refuses to pay a penny per pound more for its tomatoes, even though McDonalds and Yum! Brands have agreed to do so.
Last week, Burger King reported third fiscal quarter profits were up 21 percent and revenue rose 10 percent to $594 million from $539 million last year. Last year, it reported revenues of $2.2 billion - up 9 percent from 2006. CEO Chidsey made $4.1 million last year, according to Forbes.com.
Eric Schlosser, author of the best-selling "Fast Food Nation" estimates it would cost Burger King no more than $250,000 a year to pay tomato workers the additional penny per pound.
John Stauber, executive director of the Wisconsin-based Center for Media and Democracy, calls Burger King's internal investigation "a corporate cover-up."
"For starters, Burger King's Grover is senior management and directly implicated in this scandal," Stauber said. "Clearly the Burger King corporation is not ready to come clean and take responsibility for its actions, hoping this all just blows over in the press."