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Burger King pays fair wages

Letter to the Editor | Monday, November 12, 2007

The letter published on Nov. 8 (“Burger King ignores slavery in their fields”), unfairly dismisses Burger King Corp.’s serious and important commitment to worker dignity, while missing the facts regarding payments from Taco Bell and McDonald’s to the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW).

Tomato pickers fill their buckets each day for Florida farm employers, who in turn sell those tomatoes to brokers and suppliers of major retail and fast food chains. In most cases, the workers do not pick tomatoes for any specific customer – that sorting happens days later at the re-packer. Florida tomato pickers are paid an average of $12.46 per hour at the time of picking, according to 2006-2007 payroll records. If the penny-per-pound arrangement described in the letter actually existed, the farm workers would already be enjoying higher wages for picking tomatoes, including some tomatoes destined for Burger King.

Nevertheless, the strict confidentiality surrounding the details of Taco Bell’s and McDonald’s payments to the CIW makes it impossible to determine who is benefitting from the payments. In fact, the Florida tomato growers who employ the CIW farm workers have refused to participate in the Taco Bell or McDonald’s agreements due to serious legal concerns. The Florida tomato growers announced in a press release on Nov. 5 that no money ever passed to the workers under the McDonald’s agreement, and that the Taco Bell agreement is now moot.

The letter also ignored Burger King Corp.’s clear refusal to do business with any suppliers guilty of worker abuse and labor law violations. During more than two years of negotiation, the CIW failed to provide Burger King with the name or location of one supplier in Immokalee engaged in serious violations of the law. We are eager to do our part to improve the lives of the Florida farm workers, and we remain open to working with the CIW and others in furtherance of this goal. Our substantive offers of enforcement, charitable contributions and worker retraining remain on the table as a meaningful starting point for addressing the conditions facing the Florida farm workers. Regardless, our offers of assistance have been rejected by the CIW.

Fundamental respect for all workers along our supply chain is part of our corporate conscience; our value system is incompatible with the CIW’s demand that we simply make payments and consider the job done.

Keva Silversmith

Burger King Corporation

Miami, Fla.

Nov. 12