Have it Burger King’s way — shower executives with millions, stiff the pickers

The stinginess and lack of ethics shown by Burger King and its contractors in balking over giving Florida tomato pickers a penny-a-pound raise is outrageous.

Eric Schlosser, the journalist who exposed the dirty underbelly of the fast-food industry in "Fast Food Nation" has a scathing op-ed in the Times today about the injustice. After reviewing the story, he concludes with this illustration of the tremendous inequality of this latest Gilded Age:

Three private equity firms — Bain Capital, the Texas Pacific Group and Goldman Sachs Capital Partners — control most of Burger King’s stock. Last year, the chief executive of Goldman Sachs, Lloyd C. Blankfein, earned the largest annual bonus in Wall Street history, and this year he stands to receive an even larger one. Goldman Sachs has served its investors well lately, avoiding the subprime mortgage meltdown and, according to Business Week, doubling the value of its Burger King investment within three years.

Telling Burger King to pay an extra penny for tomatoes and provide a decent wage to migrant workers would hardly bankrupt the company. Indeed, it would cost Burger King only $250,000 a year. At Goldman Sachs, that sort of money shouldn’t be too hard to find. In 2006, the bonuses of the top 12 Goldman Sachs executives exceeded $200 million — more than twice as much money as all of the roughly 10,000 tomato pickers in southern Florida earned that year. Now Mr. Blankfein should find a way to share some of his company’s good fortune with the workers at the bottom of the food chain.

According to Burger King’s most recent proxy statement, CEO John Childers received $4.1 million and North American President Charles Fallon received $1.8 million in total compensation for fiscal 2007. The tomato pickers earn an average of $10,000 per year — or less — without benefits like health insurance (you can be sure that Burger King’s executives receive top-flight insurance for themselves and their families).  At the current per-pound rate, workers must pick more than 2.5 tons of tomatoes just to earn minimum wage for a typical backbreaking 10-hour day.

I wonder if letters or phone calls to the upper management reminding them that there are people who are willing to pay more to allow workers to have a slightly better life would have any impact? If you want to give it a try, this page lists BK’s corporate addresses. The number for consumer relations is (305) 378-3535.

For more background on the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, visit the group’s website or PBS NOW’s coverage, including a video segment.

5 Responsesto “Have it Burger King’s way — shower executives with millions, stiff the pickers”

  1. Kei says:

    Being an inveterate cynic, I highly doubt that Burger King can be shamed into paying an extra penny per pound for farm workers. But perhaps if there were a big enough outcry (and they are getting quite a drubbing in the press for this), they would worry that the bad publicity is cutting into their brand equity.
    As for pointing out the grotesque differences in the wages of Burger King’s CEO and the tomato pickers, that is the unfortunate reality of corporations these days. In fact, the management’s compensation would probably go down if they agreed to higher costs in the form of a worker premium to be paid out. After all, they’re creating the value. The workers are just picking the tomatoes. Sad.

  2. Agaric says:

    Fast food corporatism makes me sick. This is pure economic exploitation, and for what? So people can get constipation fuel at a slightly lower price or so top executives can buy another damn Hummer? I haven’t had a bite of fast food in the past several months because I’ve been absolutely appalled at the labor practices and impact on the environment. It’s disgusting how wages in many regions of the U.S. in the 21st century are still frozen in the abysmal squalor of 19th century Chicago stockyards.

  3. Jen X says:

    I’m so glad to see this issue getting wide attention on good blogs. Another way to contact Burger King quickly: the social justice magazine Sojourners has formatted an email message that allows one to email Burger King executives directly to insist they begin paying farm workers fairly. There’s a link to the Sojourners action email on my blog (is it OK to list this here?): http://dailymitzvah.blogspot.com. If it’s not OK to list my blog address, one can also access the email campaign via an action link on the left sidebar at the Coalition for Immokalee Workers web site, which is referenced via a link in the main blog post.

  4. Cookie Jill says:

    Unfortunately, if one protests outside a Burger King, you can conceivably be charged with being a terrorist under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act.

  5. batchild says:

    I used to run an online information management company, BK was our largest client. They spent at least $250k our first year on their advertising project management, which was always a minor footnote in an ad’s budget. I was told by one of the producers that their sandwiches cost 7 cents to make, which they sold for .99 cents or more. Just more food for thought.