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Burger King ignores slavery in their fields

Letter to the Editor | Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Do you eat tomatoes in the dining halls? Do you put ketchup on your fries? Would you still eat those tomatoes if you knew they were picked by people who may as well be (and sometimes are) enslaved?

In the fields of Florida right now, workers have to pick two tons of tomatoes in order to make $50, two and a half tons to make the minimum wage in Florida. This is something only possible during the peak seasons of picking, when competition for wages makes it possible to work only two to three days a week. Typically, workers make less than $40 per day, and rarely have a full work week. Injuries are also common. As a result of this, farmworkers have to live with upwards of 10 people in a dingy trailer, because it rents for $300 – $500 per week (that’s not a typo), and work in the fields for 10-12 hours per day. Actual cases of slavery are still being uncovered, with other cases still working through the courts.

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), formed in 1993 to fight these injustices, has been instrumental in achieving better wages and working conditions for farmworkers. In 2004, Taco Bell signed an agreement to pay a penny more per pound to workers, which increased wages for tomato pickers by 70 percent. That may seem like a lot, but it had been 30 years since farmworkers had received a raise. And last year, McDonalds signed on to a similar agreement. These corporations are the same ones that have asked for lower and lower costs for years, which were passed down to the workers. Unfortunately, these agreements represent only one to two percent of the industry.

Currently, Burger King is refusing to sign the type of agreement that McDonalds and Taco Bell have. In response to this, and with the knowledge that the previous agreements only came after long, hard struggles, the CIW will be holding a protest Nov. 30 at Burger King’s corporate headquarters in Miami, Fl.

In support of this action, Notre Dame students have joined in this fight as well. On Oct. 31, wearing masks of the “King” that read, “Burger King Exploits Farmworkers,” 16 students sat outside of the Burger King in LaFortune, trying to raise awareness of these issues.

Students who have further interest in these problems or would like to join our cause should direct their questions to MEChA (Movimiento Estudantil Chicano de Aztlán), or are welcome to e-mail me at mgotsch@nd.edu. If neither of those options appeal to you, I ask that you simply remember the people in the fields making it possible for you to have ketchup with those fries.

All statistics about the daily life of farm workers came from the CSC’s Migrant Experiences Seminar 2007, held in Immokalee, Fl., and from www.ciw-online.org.

Mike Gotsch


Keough Hall

Nov. 7