Florida Growers say they won't abide by historic McDonalds, Farm workers agreement

05/25/07 Mitch E. Perry
WMNF Drive-Time News Friday | Listen to this entire show:

The largest group of Florida tomato growers yesterday rejected a recent deal between McDonalds and the Coalition for Immokalee Workers that would pay field workers more for the fruit they pick. The Florida Tomato Growers Exchange says participating in the highly-publicized labor deals may be unlawful and it has concerns about violations of state and federal antitrust, labor and even racketeering laws. Reggie Brown is  Executive Vice President of that organization.  It’s an agriculture cooperative that represents about 90% of the tomato growers in the state.  (roll tape#1 o.q.”in those arrangements”) This move has the Coalition of Immokalee Workers crying foul.  Julia Perkins is a spokesperson for the group.  She says after McDonalds, and previously Taco Bell had made agreements with the CIW, the Exchange’s news is disappointing (roll tape#2 o.q.”tomato Committee”)
The Florida Tomato Growers Exchange isn’t very specific about what types of legal problems might ensue if they agree to start paying Florida Farmworkers more per 32 pound bucket.  But Reggie Brown says that they’re already getting paid a decent living wage (roll tape#3 o.q.”part of our business”)
 The Coalition of Immokalee Workers has had success first with Yum Brands, the corporate parent of Taco Bell, and most recently with McDonalds, by making their demands rather modest.  The CIW says all they’re asking for is an increase of a penny per pound in picking tomatoes.  They say the extra penny would boost their pay to 77 cents a bucket, up from the 45 cents they were getting paid. Julia Perkins     (roll tape#4 o.q” to eat”) For their part, McDonalds says they’re committed to working with suppliers and workers to improve working and living conditions. WMNF asked Yum Brands for comment.   Just in the last week, the Kentucky based corporation announced an expansion of their 2005 agreement with the Farmworkers with their other brands: KFC, Pizza Hut, Long John Silver’s and A&W All-American Foods. Their corporate headquarters issued a statement, which says in part, “Taco Bell’s penny per pound agreement with the CIW costs approximately $110,000 per year.    The extension to the other YUM brands will cost just a fraction of that amount.  We hope other major restaurants and supermarkets will follow YUM’s lead by paying a penny per pound more for Florida tomatoes to help the tomato workers. But Reggie Brown says his growers aren’t obligated to any of those corporations to pay a higher wage (roll tape#5 o.q.”to be illegal”) Julia Perkins from the CIW says that her group, which consists of roughly 3,500 members, has worked successfully with Yum Brands and Taco Bell for the past 2 years, and say they look forward to working with the other brands associated with Yum.(roll tape#6 o.q.”the growers will have to answer as well”) An economics professor at the University of Florida, John Van Sickle, told In These Times Magazine earlier this year, that their deal with the  CIW will cost the company less than $1 million, not a huge sum for a firm that made a $3.5 billon profit last year.      

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