McDonald’s USA, the largest fast-food burger business in the nation, Monday reached agreement with a Florida farmworkers organization to pay about 75 percent more for the tomatoes it buys from state farms.
According to McDonald’s and the Coalition for Immokalee Workers, which waged a two-year campaign for the increase, laborers who now receive 40 to 45 cents for a 32-pound bucket of tomatoes will earn about 72 to 77 cents for that measure, a 1 cent per pound increase.
The company said the hike would not cause it to raise its prices at the counter.
The workers coalition said the agreement would affect between 1,000 to 1,500 workers who labor for several Florida tomato growers. It is the second major victory for the farmworkers - similar to a pact reached in 2005 with Yum! Brands, the owner of Taco Bell and other fast food chains. That agreement, according to the coalition, affected about 1,000 workers
This is a very good day for us,Julia Perkins, a spokeswoman for the coalition, said Monday.What it represents is a glimmer of hope that things can change across the country, with Burger King, Wal-Mart and Subway too.
Those chains also are large buyers of tomatoes, and the coalition is pressing them to raise payments to tomato pickers. The farmworker organization announced that the next company it will target for higher wages for pickers is the arch rival of McDonald’s, Miami-based Burger King.
Lucas Benitez, leader of the farmworkers coalition, was participating in a protest caravan heading for the corporate headquarters of McDonald’s in Oak Brook, Ill., near Chicago, to stage demonstrations when the agreement was reached. He said he would continue the caravan.
When we get up there to Chicago we will announce the good news of the agreement with McDonald’s,he said.
Farmworkers are some of the lowest paid workers in the country. According to Perkins, before the Taco Bell agreement, wages for tomato pickers had hardly moved in 25 years.
Taco Bell, which resisted the coalition demands for about four years, was the object of a nationwide boycott until it reached its agreement. During the boycott, several universities ordered Taco Bell franchises on their campuses to close their doors.
No boycott had been called yet against McDonald’s. Perkins said the campaign had included some picketing outside McDonald’s franchises, a letter-writing effort and meetings on university campuses and at churches. But she made it clear that the campaign had been heading toward a possible boycott.
Yes, it was looking like the campaign was going to get more aggressive,she said.
Perkins said the details of the agreement had not been completed, but she expected it to work much like the Taco Bell pact. She said that Taco Bell pays the extra penny per pound directly to the workers, who receive a separate, second check —a bonus check— for those Taco Bell tomatoes.
She said the increase did not represent a 75 percent increase in total wages for pickers because many of the tomatoes they pick are destined for other buyers who have not agreed to the increase.
But it can make a difference of 15, 30 or even 100 dollars per week for some workers depending on how many of the tomatoes are heading for McDonald’s,she said.
Benitez said the McDonald’s pact, like the Taco Bell agreement, will ensure that all workers picking McDonald’s tomatoes also will have their human rights and civil rights respected and that a system for protesting workplace violations will be instituted between the coalition and McDonald’s.
Benitez identified three growers the pact would affect: Six L’s of Immokalee and Pacific Tomato and Taylor & Fulton, both of Palmetto.
The CIW isn’t done yet. Taco Bell held out for four years of a long and bitter struggle; the CIW won with McDonald’s after two years of low-intensity pressure that was about to be stepped up into a major campaign. They have already begun to organize their next campaign — to bring Burger King into a similar agreement — and every victory that they win will make the next one faster and easier than the last.
While establishmentarian unions in the AFL-CIO and
Change to Win [sic] are fighting (punch-drunk) for their very survival, and begging the political class for yet more government protections, the CIW has won agreements with two of the biggest corporations in their industry — first Yum Brands (owners of Taco Bell) and now McDonald’s — with no government privileges to wield and with members speaking several different languages, organizing across barriers of culture and nationality, amongst workers who are constantly moving and who are amongst the poorest and most exploited workers in the United States. But they’ve won precisely because they aren’t restrained by the smothering patronage of government-approved labor relations: without government recognition, there are no government strings attached, and that has allowed the CIW to make use of fight-to-win tactics — such as secondary boycotts — that are simply illegal for NLRB-recognized unions to use. This win is, in other words, another inspiring example of the real power of wildcat unionism and creative extremism.
Fellow workers, you have both my congratulations and my thanks. Yes, we can do it—ourselves. And we will.