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Month: May 2008

good news: burger king changes its mind

good news: burger king changes its mind

Burger King has reversed its entrenched opposition to raising wages for the tomato pickers helping to provide the produce necessary to its business, removing the last major corporate obstacle to a more just wage for the farm workers. However, the tomato growers are still set against a wage increase. Read Andrew Martin’s coverage in the New York Times:

After a contentious battle that included allegations of spying, Burger King announced on Friday that it had reached an agreement to improve the wages and working conditions of tomato pickers in Florida.

At a news conference on Capitol Hill, the hamburger chain, based in Miami, said it would pay tomato prices adequate to give workers a wage increase of 1.5 cents a pound. A penny a pound will go into the workers’ pockets. The extra half-cent is intended to cover additional payroll taxes and administrative costs for tomato growers.

The 1-cent increase means that for every 32-pound bucket of tomatoes they pick, the workers will earn 77 cents, instead of 45 cents. That is a 71 percent increase, the first substantial one in decades for the workers. At the old wage, a farm workers group said, the pickers typically earned $10,000 to $12,000 a year.

“If the Florida tomato industry is to be sustainable long term, it must become more socially responsible,” said Amy Wagner, a senior vice president at Burger King. She estimated that the wage boost would cost Burger King about $300,000 a year.

In a statement, Burger King’s chief executive, John W. Chidsey, said he was sorry for previous negative remarks directed toward an activist group that has fought on behalf of the pickers, the Coalition for Immokalee Workers. Immokalee is a town in southwest Florida where many of the farm workers live in decrepit shacks and trailers.

Mr. Chidsey praised the workers’ organization as “being on the forefront of efforts to improve farm labor conditions, exposing abuses and driving socially responsible purchasing and work practices in the Florida tomato fields.”

McDonalds and Yum Brands, the parent of Taco Bell, had already agreed to similar deals. But it remained unclear on Friday if workers would receive the pay increase, because Florida tomato growers had resisted it.

The Florida Tomato Growers Exchange, which represents 90 percent of the state’s tomato growers, told The News-Press in Fort Myers, Fla., on Thursday that it was withdrawing its threat of imposing $100,000 fines on members who provided a penny-a-pound pay raise.

Reggie Brown, the exchange’s executive vice president, told the Florida newspaper that he remained troubled by legal questions prompted by the raise and was advising members not to participate.

Mr. Brown could not be located for comment on Friday.

The announcement was hailed by some members of Congress and by farm workers’ organizations, who had waged a vigorous campaign that included petition drives and Congressional hearings.

Senator Bernard Sanders, an Independent of Vermont, said the working conditions of the tomato pickers were a “national and international embarrassment,” and he praised Burger King for agreeing to raise wages.

“We all know that this has been a long and hard road for Burger King,” he said.

Lucas Benitez, of the Coalition for Immokalee Workers, said he was thankful that Burger King agreed to the wage increase, and he said his group would now set its sights on other restaurant chains and grocery retailers who continue to pay wages his group regards as substandard.

Noting that some of those companies market themselves as being socially responsible, Mr. Benitez, co-founder of the farm workers’ group, said, “It is time for those companies to live out the true meaning of their marketers” words.

Friday’s announcement was a sharp departure for Burger King, which had vigorously fought increasing its tomato costs. Burger King acknowledged, for instance, that it had hired a private security firm to obtain information about student and farm worker organizations that were demanding price increases. The company has since severed its ties to the security firm.

going to new orleans

going to new orleans

Even three years after hurricane Katrina, there is much rebuilding work yet to do in New Orleans as this video from the Center for American Progress indicates …

Tomorrow I leave with a mission team of twelve adults from our congregation for a week’s work in New Orleans. We will be one team among many taking part in the ongoing efforts of the United Church of Christ to help the people of New Orleans rebuild their homes and their lives. Ours is a good team — six men and six women — and we go with strong support from our church family. I have high expectations, both for the blessings we will bestow by our work and the blessings we will receive from the people we meet.

We will be hosted by St. Matthew/Central United Church of Christ. We will worship with them on Sunday, make their church our home for six days, share a red beans and rice supper with them on Wednesday evening … and see their city up close, both through their eyes and our own. So we go not only to help, but also to be helped, to be helped to see our neighbors as Jesus does.

Our 400 man-hours of work will make only a small contribution to the larger needs of the city, but, we pray, a contribution that will make a great difference for the two families in whose homes we will work. It is good to be able to do something … to take our faith beyond mere words, to live our compassion beyond mere feelings.

nrdc update: 37 wolves killed

nrdc update: 37 wolves killed

Two wolvesAn update from the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) on what has happened since protections for wolves were lifted in Idaho, Wyoming and Montana …

The government-sanctioned massacre of wolves is now under way.

A mere 30 days after the Bush Administration stripped Yellowstone’s wolves of their Endangered Species protection, the Northern Rockies have been turned into a killing field.

Thirty-seven wolves are already dead. Hundreds more are being targeted by Wyoming, Idaho and Montana, which have waited years for this chance to put their plans for extermination into action.

But today there is reason for hope: America’s best wildlife legal team is riding to the rescue.

Our partner organization, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) — and 11 other groups — filed suit this week in federal court to stop the killing and restore the wolf’s desperately needed Endangered Species protection.

The court action comes not a moment too soon. Eyewitness reports of the latest wolf-killing rampage have been heartbreaking to people all over the world who care about wildlife.

On the very day that these wolves lost their Endangered Species protection, a crippled wolf named “Limpy,” one of the most photographed wolves in Yellowstone’s famous Druid Peak pack, was shot to death when he ventured outside the park.

Another wolf was stalked for over 35 miles by snowmobile before being overtaken and shot. Another was found dead on the side of the highway, his still-warm body torn apart by bullets.

And, tragically, at least four female wolves have been killed just prior to the denning season, which could doom some of the region’s wolf pups.

Wolves simply cannot outrun these relentless attacks. Their last, best hope now rests with the life-saving reprieve that NRDC is seeking in federal court.

You can learn more about the threats to the gray wolves in my earlier post, putting the wolf in danger. You can take action to ban wolf poisons here.