I’ll admit it’s not a big sacrifice on my part — my consumption of Junior Whoppers and Spicy Chicken Patties works out to about one sandwich a year. But after reading Eric Schlosser’s op-ed piece in The New York Times about the giant fast food company’s refusal to pay an extra penny a pound for the tomatoes harvested by migrant workers in Florida, I’m taking the pledge — no more BK until they do the right thing.
According to this news story in the Times, both McDonald’s and Yum Brands, which owns Taco Bell, agreed to a deal negotiated with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, to pay an additional penny a pound for tomatoes, with the proceeds passed along to the farm workers. That deal has been in effect since 2005, and McDonald’s joined this year. It’s not making the farmworkers rich, by any means – according to a Coalition of Immokalee Workers report, tomato pickers earn, on average, $10,000/year. The piece rate of 45 cents per 32 pound bucket of tomatoes hasn’t increased since 1980, which means that the farm workers have to pick more than twice as many buckets as they did in 1980 to earn minimum wage.
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The penny a pound deal only covers a small fraction of Florida’s migrant tomato pickers, and even after the increase, their earnings are still at the poverty level. But the deal may fall apart because Burger King has refused to sign on, and the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange is threatening growers who participate with a $100,000 fine. The Tomato Growers call the surcharge “un-American” and say that allowing the surcharge would violate anti-trust and labor laws. But according to one legal expert quoted by the Times, it’s the tomato growers who may be violating anti-trust laws, by preventing their members from participating.
Responding to a reporter for the DeLand-Delton Beacon, a Burger King spokesperson said that “Any dispute over wages and pay should be settled between the employer and employee, and Burger King is not a party to this dispute.” But as Schlosser points out, Burger King doesn’t hesitate to tell its suppliers how to treat their livestock – if Taco Bell and McDonald’s can sign on to fairer wages for the people who harvest their tomatoes, so can Burger King.
And if the moral argument doesn’t persuade you to skip those spicy chicken patties, maybe a look at their ingredient list will:
Chicken breasts with rib meat, Water, Salt, Monosodium Glutamate, Flavors, Chicken Fat, Propylene Glycol, Water, Sunflower Oil, Artificial Flavors, Sodium Lactate, Autolyzed Yeast Extract, Chicken Broth, Polysorbate 60, Polysorbate 80, Sodium Hydroxide, Medium Chain Triglycerides, Sodium Phosphate, Salt, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean & Cottonseed Oil, Papain, Chicken Powder, & Thiamine Hydrochloride, Flavoring. Breaded with: Bleached Wheat Flour, Enriched Wheat Flour (Enriched with Niacin, Ferrous Sulfate, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Salt, Spice, Dextrose, Leavening (Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Sodium Bicarbonate) Onion Powder, Garlic Powder, Extractives of Paprika, Soybean Oil, set in Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil. Battered with: Water, Bleached Wheat Flour, Modified Corn Starch, Salt, Spices, Leavening (Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Sodium Bicarbonate), Soybean Oil, Onion Powder, Dextrin, Extractives of Paprika, Yellow 6, Red 40 Lake, Natural & Artificial Flavor (Including Butter Flavor), Lactic Acid, Not more than 2% Sodium Silico Aluminate added to prevent caking. Predusted With: Wheat Flour, Modified Corn Starch, Salt, Wheat Gluten, Spice, Extractives of Paprika, Soybean Oil, Onion Powder, Not More Than 2% Silicon Dioxide Added to Prevent Caking. Contains: Wheat.