tomato.jpgThe New Year is upon us and it’s a good time to think about the unimaginable things we do for the sake of money today.

One great example is a large corporation fighting an increase in the wage of miserably paid tomato pickers. Folks, $13,000 a year can hardly sustain an individual’s bare bones life. Come on, we all know this. You don’t need a fancy degree to figure this out.

I’m talking about the plight of tomato pickers in Florida. Pickers who supply McDonald’s, Burger King and Taco Bell with all those tasteless tomatoes we scraf down in our fast food.

The farm-workers group, called the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, Immokalee for the town where they do the picking, has pushed and won wage increases for workers who supply McDonald’s and Taco Bell, but Burger King is the last hold out.

Burger King has found an interesting argument to support its refusal to pay more. It claims it can’t pony up any more money because the company doesn’t directly employee the workers.

What Burger King would have to do is pressure the third party that supplies them with tomatoes to up the wages. It’s not something that’s unheard of. Companies pressure suppliers to drop prices all the time, why not push them to up prices a bit so they can pass on that money to the poor workers?

Another interesting twist to the whole situation is the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange, which represents 90 percent of growers in the state, is threatening to fine the growers who are cooperating with McDonald’s and Taco Bell and actually paying their pickers a fair wage.

The Exchange’s executive vice president Reggie Brown says the coalition of farm workers have violated antitrust laws by working with McDonald’s and Taco Bell’s parent Yum Brands to boost wages.

Usually such antitrust laws are trotted out when companies are colluding to fix prices on certain products or services. It’s seen as unfair to competition if such entities are allowed to compare notes on how much they plan to charge, because then the consumer ends up paying more.

But, in this case, it seems probable that McDonald’s and Taco Bell would end up eating the extra penny per pound added on behalf of the workers. What would that translate anyway for one Whopper? Could consumers pay the difference?

The situation even prompted former President Jimmy Carter to send a letter to Reggie Brown of the Exchange:

“Growers, consumers, and workers must be active participants in establishing a fair wage and good conditions. Companies such as Yum and McDonald’s are taking important leadership roles toward that goal. Burger King and others are continuing to support a market system that keeps workers in sub-poverty conditions and stand silently as modest gains are deliberately rolled back. It is time to take a fresh look at the problem in order to restore the dignity of the Florida tomato industry.”

It blows my mind that these companies are fighting tooth and nail for one penny. We need to get things in perspective everyone. How can we justify our nation and want to protect what we’re all about, if we can’t even pay workers a fair wage.

The American Dream: A house, a car, a good education, and a hamburger with tomatoes that were picked by workers who make a decent wage.

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