Harvest of Shame

From “Harvest of Shame: Florida’s Modern-Day Slavery” by Pierre Tristam for the Daytona Beach News-Journal:

Reggie Brown was upset. As executive vice president of the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange, he was before a U.S. Senate committee in April to dispute charges of slavery and human trafficking leveled at tomato growers by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, what Brown called “a purported labor organization.” There’s nothing “purported” about the South Florida-based organization (ciw-online.org) other than the status of its mostly Latino, Haitian, and Mayan Indian membership of migrants. Their employers often don’t consider them quite human. More like purported human beings.

They pay them accordingly. Assuming the picker gets work during the morning auction where growers pick their field hands for the day (the same cattle-auction method showed on Edward Murrow’s “Harvest of Shame” documentary 48 years ago), the picker, until recently, was making 45 cents per 32-lb bucket of tomatoes. The rate was little changed from what it was 30 years ago. Taking inflation into account, the wage was 75 percent lower than in 1978. To make Florida’s minimum wage of $6.79 an hour, the picker would have had to pick and haul 15 32-lb buckets in an hour, or 480 pounds. To make $50 for the day, he’d have to pick and haul 111 buckets, or 3,550 pounds of tomatoes. That’s 1.77 tons.

It took two years and mediation by the Carter Center to convince McDonald’s in 2007 to pay pickers 1 penny more per pound. It took another year to convince Burger King to do the same (that agreement was reached in late May), after Burger King had hired spies to infiltrate a student organization backing the pickers. Burger King said the extra penny will cost the company an extra $300,000 a year. One of the three equity firms that control most of Burger King’s stock is Goldman Sachs Capital Partners. That company’s CEO is Lloyd C. Blankfein. His total compensation in 2007, according to the Securities and Exchange Commission, was $70.3 million, or about $300,000 a day in a 235-day work-year. In other words, giving the 10,000 tomato pickers in Florida their first raise in 30 years works out to the equivalent of a single day’s compensation for just one CEO in Burger King’s shareholder food-chain. And they’re calling that a victory for the tomato pickers. Don’t count on it.

Read the whole piece on Tristam’s site.

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