Friday, November 30, 2007

no more burger king

Today I read an opinion column in the New York Times by Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation and Reefer Madness. It really made me angry. This is what he wrote about:

Migrant farm workers harvesting tomatoes in South Florida spend 10 to 12 hours a day picking tomatoes by hand. They earn about 45 cents for each 32-pound bucket of tomatoes they pick and usually, they pick, lug, and unload about two tons of tomatoes per day. These are the tomatoes destined for fast food chains: Taco Bell, McDonald’s, Burger King. They, of course, want their tomatoes to be as cheap as possible.

Taco Bell ended a consumer boycott a couple of years ago by agreeing to pay an extra penny per pound for tomatoes it buys from Florida growers, with the extra penny going directly to the farm workers. McD’s agreed to do this as well. This increases farm worker wages to about 77 cents per 32-pound bucket. But Burger King refuses to pay the extra penny—which would cost them about $250,000 per year. This has led tomato growers to cancel the deals with Taco Bell & McDonald’s.

The Florida Tomato Growers Exchange, 90% of Florida growers, said none of its members are allowed collect the extra penny for farm workers. Because, according to the FTGE, the surcharge is “un-American,” and subjecting its members to a $100,000 fine if they try to comply with the Taco Bell and McD’s agreements. They claim the extra penny per pound violates several laws, but refuse to specify which laws. In fact, the surcharge is perfectly legal (like the fuel surcharges are perfectly legal).

Florida has a piss-poor record of abusing its migrant workers, the majority of them undocumented workers. Growers have forced the farm workers into slavery at times. forced them to work for nothing, and subjected migrant workers to other forms of abuse. For doing the jobs that Americans won’t do. Burger King treats its livestock more humanely than the people who supply the chain with produce, with strict new rules on how its meatpacking suppliers should treat chickens and hogs headed for your belly, and say that if farm workers want to make more money, they should apply to work at Burger King restaurants.

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers is the organization behind improving the lives of migrants in the state, investigating slavery cases, and negotiating the penny-per-pound surcharge with fast food chains. Bain Capital, Texas Pacific Group, and Goldman Sachs Capital Partners (private equity firms) control most of the Burger King stock. The bonuses alone for the top 12 Goldman Sachs executives—$200 million-plus in 2006—is more than twice as much as all of the 10,000 or so farm workers earned in Florida that same year.

Just $250,000—that’s all it would cost Burger King to comply with the surcharge. I think I can do just fine without eating at a fast food restaurant of owners who care more about treating a chicken humanely than a human being. In fact, I think I can do without Florida tomatoes, period, unless I get them at Taco Bell or Mickey D’s. If Burger King just stopped running their creepy commercials a couple of times during prime time, they’d have more than enough to fund the surcharge. So, please:

BOYCOTT BURGER KING until they agree to pay the penny-per-pound surcharge.

posted by lee on 11/30/07 at 01:40 AM

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