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.