Have it Your Way

Burger King and a farm workers organization reached agreement to boost wages and improve conditions for Florida tomato pickers. The fast-food giant joins McDonald's and Taco Bell owner Yum Brands, which already have similar deals with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. Senator Bernie Sanders, who visited Florida last winter, hosted a Capitol press conference to announce the agreement. "What I saw shocked me," he said. "I saw hopelessness among workers that I had never seen before in the U.S.

Burger King and a farm workers organization reached agreement to boost wages and improve conditions for Florida tomato pickers. The fast-food giant joins McDonald's and Taco Bell owner Yum Brands, which already have similar deals with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. Senator Bernie Sanders, who visited Florida last winter, hosted a Capitol press conference to announce the agreement. "What I saw shocked me," he said. "I saw hopelessness among workers that I had never seen before in the U.S. I saw people making pathetically low wages. I saw people living in terrible housing conditions paying extremely high rents, while others were unable to access health care. Ironically, on the day that I was in Immokalee, another indictment on slavery charges was issued. In a nation where millions of workers are seeing their wages decline and where we are involved in a tragic race to the bottom, I saw that bottom."

Under the agreement, Burger King will pay 1.5 cents more per pound of tomatoes it buys from Florida growers, with a penny of that given to workers. To encourage participation, the rest will go to growers to help cover any additional payroll taxes and administrative costs.

"I am happy to be part of a process in which we are announcing some significant progress and I want to thank all those who have worked so hard to make this happen. I want to take this opportunity to thank Senators Kennedy, Brown and Durbin for their hard work on this issue, and in particular for the hearing we held last month in the Senate labor committee, which helped to shine a spotlight on the harvest of shame that still exists in the tomato fields in Florida.

"Let me congratulate the Coalition of Immokalee Workers for all their work over the years fighting for tomato workers in Florida. Day in and day out, year after year, through good times and bad, their determination, commitment and dedication towards improving life in the tomato fields of Florida is paying-off.

"Let me also today congratulate Burger King for agreeing to increase the wages of tomato workers and for agreeing to a strong code of conduct to improve the working conditions in Florida's tomato fields. I know that this has been a long and hard road for Burger King, but I am very glad they are here today. I believe very much that the American people appreciate their decision to do the right thing.

"I hope now that other fast food companies, restaurants and grocery chain stores will join Burger King, McDonalds and Yum Brands in also doing the right thing here so that we can end the national and international embarrassment that has gone on for too long.

Lucas Benitez , a coalition co-founder, said, "The events of the past months have been trying, but 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.

"Today we are one step closer to building a world where we, as farm workers, can enjoy a fair wage and humane working conditions in exchange for the hard and essential work we do everyday. We are not there yet, but we are getting there, and this agreement should send a strong message to the rest of the restaurant and supermarket industry: Now is the time to join Yum Brands, McDonalds, and Burger King in righting the wrongs that have been allowed to linger in Florida's fields for far too long."

John Chidsey, the chief executive officer of Burger King, said, "We are pleased to now be working together with the CIW to further the common goal of improving Florida tomato farm workers' wages, working conditions and lives. The CIW has been at the forefront of efforts to improve farm labor conditions, exposing abuses and driving socially responsible purchasing and work practices in the Florida tomato fields. We apologize for any negative statements about the CIW or its motives previously attributed to BKC or its employees and now realize that those statements were wrong. Today we turn a new page in our relationship and begin a new chapter of real progress for Florida farm workers.

"For more than 50 years, BKC has been a proud purchaser and supporter of the Florida tomato industry. However, if the Florida tomato industry is to be sustainable long-term, it must become more socially responsible. We, along with other industry leaders, recognize that the Florida tomato harvesters are in need of better wages, working conditions and respect for the hard work they do. And we look forward to working with the CIW in the pursuit of these necessary improvements. We also encourage other purchasers and growers of Florida tomatoes to engage in dialogue with the CIW in support of driving industry-wide socially responsible change."

Senator Richard Durbin, who worked with Sanders and others, applauded Burger King. "Today's announcement is a major step forward in improving the wages and working conditions of the Immokalee workers. I call on other purchasers of the region's tomatoes and the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange to join Burger King and do the right thing for these workers."