US church tells fast food giant to super-size workers' pay rise

By staff writers
12 Jan 2007

The Rev Clifton Kirkpatrick, who moderates the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), is urging fast-food giant Burger King to work with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) to address wages and working conditions in the tomato fields.

The CIW is a Florida-based group of farmworkers who sponsored a successful national boycott of Taco Bell that ended in March 2005 after nearly four years of pressuring leaders of Yum! Brands, Inc., which, in addition to Taco Bell, owns Long John Silvers, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut and A&W Root Beer restaurants.

The boycott led to a groundbreaking agreement that improved farmworker wages, guaranteed transparency in Taco Bell's tomato supply chain and established the first code of conduct for Florida agricultural suppliers that guarantees a meaningful role for farmworkers in the protection of their own rights.

The PC(USA)'s 214th General Assembly in 2002 endorsed the boycott and called for negotiations between Taco Bell, its tomato suppliers and CIW representatives.

Kirkpatrick said in his statement to Burger King, dated 10 January 2006, that workers who pick tomatoes in Florida for Burger King continue to face poverty wages and exploitative working conditions. "They still lack rights enjoyed by workers in other industries," he declared.

Most tomato pickers still receive roughly the same pay as in 1978 - 40 to 45 cents for every 32-pound bucket of tomatoes they pick. To earn 50 US dollars a day, considered a good haul, workers must pick about 125 buckets of tomatoes, or about two tons.

Kirkpatrick said in his letter that Burger King has an obligation to correct the deficiencies.

"The only thing missing in order to end the human rights abuses of tomato pickers is Burger King's willingness," Kirkpatrick wrote. "Any company who profits from the exploitation of others is morally and ethically responsible for ending that exploitation."

Last June, the PC(USA)'s 217th General Assembly approved a resolution calling for ongoing work with the CIW in the campaign to get fast-food corporations to ensure the human rights of farmworkers harvesting their tomatoes by partnering with the CIW and advancing the precedents established in the Taco Bell-CIW agreement.

The CIW is also currently calling on hamburger giant McDonald's Inc. and Chipotle Mexican Grill to improve wages and working conditions. The Office of the Stated Clerk, the PC(USA)'s Campaign for Fair Food, which is a ministry of the Presbyterian Hunger Program; and Presbyterians across the country have joined the CIW in these efforts.

The Coalition, which is led by and represents more than 3,000 mostly Mexican, Guatemalan and Haitian farmworkers throughout Florida, eventually hopes to convince all major fast-food companies to pay more for tomatoes.

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) has also worked with the US Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to investigate and successfully prosecute six cases of farmworker slavery in recent years.

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