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Victories For Tomato Pickers Are Under Threat

Victories For Tomato Pickers Are Under Threat

"Why would [growers] allow anyone other than their own management to set wage rates. It's nuts. ... I think there's something a little bit unAmerican about that."
- Reggie Brown, executive vice president of the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange

November 26, 2007 —

When the Coalition of Immokalee Workers' four-year boycott of Yum! Brands Inc. finally came to an end in 2005 with the company agreeing to pay tomato pickers a penny more per pound, it represented one of the largest victories that labor organizers have seen in American agriculture in many years. An extra penny may not seem like much, but for laborers who picked tomatoes destined for Taco Bell burritos or Pizza Hut sauce, it means a 50 to 60 percent raise. In April of 2007, a similar agreement with reached with McDonald's.

The CIW has since turned its efforts to convincing the nation's second largest fast food chain, Burger King, to join its competitors and institute a one penny per pound price increase. Burger King has thus far resisted but more importantly, the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange is attempting to force its members to withdraw from the previous deals reached with McDonald's and Yum! Brands. The Exchange, whose spokesman recently called such deals "un-American," is reported to be threatening to fine growers who comply with CIW-brokered deals $100,000.

The CIW is responding by redoubling its efforts against Burger King, organizing statewide protests in at least 13 cities throughout Florida. The coalition, most of whose workers are undocumented immigrants, is not your typical labor union. It's focus is not on negotiating deals between growers and their workers, but informing consumers about the conditions under which their food is being grown and compelling them to act. Will ethical shopping replace the strike as the chief source of leverage for the labor movement? Maybe not, but groups like CIW continue to succeed in their efforts, many more alliances between consumers and workers on issues of labor rights and food safety could be on the horizon.

Comment on this article:

BK and union busting

Submitted by BK no longer (not verified) on November 28, 2007 - 16:11.

It's too bad Burger King won't pay a little more for tomatoes, but considering how hostile they are to unions, it doesn't surprise me. I read Fast Food Nation, and even all the nasty stories about meat processing didn't get me to stop eating Burger King food - but reading about how they responded to unions actually did. I haven't been to a BK in years.

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