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From May 23: Burger King, Immokalee farmworkers make a deal on tomato pickers' pay

May 23, 2008


11:47 A.M.The News-Press and are following the agreement between the the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and Burger King Corp. to help boost wages and improve conditions for Florida tomato pickers.

11:47 a.m. update

MIAMI — A farmworkers advocacy group and Burger King Corp. have agreed on a deal to help boost wages and improve conditions for Florida tomato pickers, both sides said today.

The plan ends a bitter dispute between the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and the Miami-based fast-food company, the nation’s second biggest hamburger chain.
Burger King agreed to pay 1.5 cents more per pound of tomatoes it buys from Florida growers, with the understanding that a penny of that will be passed to workers. The rest will go to growers to help cover additional payroll taxes and administrative costs they might incur, to encourage their participation.

The increase roughly doubles the earnings of the workers while they are picking tomatoes, the worker coalition said.

The coalition already has similar agreements with McDonald’s Corp. and Taco Bell owner Yum Brands Inc., which have already agreed to pay a penny more per pound of Florida tomatoes, so long as growers pass the extra money on to workers. Those agreements also call on the companies to work with the coalition to establish a code of conduct for their suppliers.

But the industry group representing Florida tomato growers has refused to allow its members to participate. But the coalition expressed hope that the growers would reconsider after the Burger King deal.

Telephone and e-mail messages left this morning for the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange were not immediately returned.

Burger King CEO John Chidsey he hopes the deal paves the way for “a new chapter of real progress for Florida farmworkers.”

The farmworkers, likely through the coalition, would be allowed to help monitor conditions in the fields.

“We are prepared to move forward, together now with Burger King, toward a future of full respect for the human rights of workers in the Florida tomato fields,” said coalition co-founder Lucas Benitez.

The agreement follows a congressional hearing in April led by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who called for an investigation into farmworker conditions in Florida.

For months, Burger King insisted that farmworkers earn an average of $12.56 an hour. The Immokalee coalition has long said workers earn much less. To earn that much, workers would have to fill and empty a 32-pound bucket of tomatoes, each worth about 45 cents, about every two minutes every day, the coalition said.

The company and the coalition plan to work together to develop an industrywide vendor code of conduct and increase worker wage.

10:20 a.m. update

Burger King has agreed to pay tomato harvesters a penny more per pound and improve pickers’ working conditions.

To make it easier for growers to participate, the fast-food company also will fund growers’ payroll taxes and administrative costs as a result of farmworkers’ increased pay, which actually amounts to a total of 1.5 cents per pound of tomatoes.

McDonald’s and Yum! Brands, the world’s biggest fast-food chain and restaurant company, respectively, already have agreed to the raise, championed by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. Yum!, parent company of Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and more, signed on in 2005; McDonald's in 2007.

Workers received the extra money for two seasons, but then the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange threatened $100,000 fines to any member who participated, which has stalled payouts. However, on Thursday, Reggie Brown, the exchange’s executive vice president, said the fines were no longer in effect.

There will be a press conference at 10:30 this morning at the U.S. Capitol detailing the agreement.

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