In the long and sordid history of farmworkers, a few glaring examples manage to jump out of the background noise and make national news. Such is the case with the decision by Burger King to refuse handing out a one penny price increase to tomato pickers in Florida because it has been so vehemently opposed by conservative growers.
Migrant farm laborers have long been among America’s most impoverished workers. Perhaps 80 percent of the migrants in Florida are illegal immigrants and thus especially vulnerable to abuse. During the past decade, the United States Justice Department has prosecuted half a dozen cases of slavery among farm workers in Florida. Migrants have been driven into debt, forced to work for nothing and kept in chained trailers at night. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers — a farm worker alliance based in Immokalee, Fla. — has done a heroic job improving the lives of migrants in the state, investigating slavery cases and negotiating the penny-per-pound surcharge with fast food chains.
He pointed out that the pay increase was tiny compared with the bonuses reaped by Burger King's equity owners. It would also be tiny in comparison to the amount spent at this season's charity balls, which gather the wealthiest to raise money for the needy. Were the root of the problem - poverty - addressed head on with decent wages, fewer feel-good band aids would be needed.
I would venture that this decision by Burger King's management - disastrous from a public relations point of view - will not go away soon.