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Burger King to Tomato Pickers: Have it Your Way

After its executives spied on immigrant farmworkers and slandered them on-line to fight a grass-roots campaign for better pay and working conditions, Burger King Corp. abruptly reversed course Friday. The company caved into the workers’ demands, agreeing to pay them an extra penny a pound for tomatoes that go on Whoppers and other BK products, according to a joint news release with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.

The grass-roots group, aided by church and student activists, has been fighting for more than a decade to improve the appalling conditions of immigrants who pick tomatoes and other crops in southern Florida during the winter and up the East Coast in the summer and fall.

Frustrated in its direct talks with Florida tomato growers, the coalition has used the tactic of attacking the "brand." It has been demanding that big-name retailers directly pay the workers a penny more per pound of tomatoes. This translates to a wage increase of up to 75 percent, since the standard piece-rate for a 33-pound bucket of tomatoes is 45 cents.

Three fast-food giants have now agreed to the demands of the coalition–the others being Yum! Brands (Taco Bell, KFC etc) and McDonald’s. Burger King and the Florida Tomato Exchange had joined together in resisting the coalition’s demands. In November, the tomato growers claimed the agreements with Yum! and McDonald’s were illegal, and threatened to fine farmers who agreed to honor them.

Burger King said today it would encourage grower participation in this increased wage program by funding "incremental payroll taxes and administrative costs incurred by the growers as a result of their farmworkers’ increased wages." This will bring its total payment to 1.5 cents per pound of tomatoes, BK said. It’s been estimated that the pay increase will cost Burger King less than $500,000–presumably a lot less than they were paying lawyers and PR specialists to stonewall the coalition.

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