Agreement with McDonald’s advances workers’ rights

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Agreement with McDonald’s advances workers’ rights

Aug. 2, 2007  News media contact: Tita Parham*
800-282-8011  Orlando {0711}

NOTE: A head shot of Sarah Osmer is available at See related e-Review FUMNS article, “United Methodist think-tank leader takes on new role,” at

An e-Review Feature
By John Michael De Marco**

McDonald’s USA and a coalition of farm workers recently signed an agreement that protects workers’ rights, increases their pay and protects them from abuse.

The Florida Conference supported that agreement and has pledged to continue raising awareness about farm and migrant worker issues among United Methodists within the conference.

For two years the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) and people of faith across the country have been pressuring the fast food giant to improve wages and working conditions for the farm workers who pick the tomatoes used in the restaurants’ products. McDonald’s agreed to pay 1 cent more per pound to the workers beginning during this year’s growing season. The agreement also guarantees a stronger code of conduct based on the principle of worker participation and a collaborative effort to develop a third-party mechanism for monitoring conditions in the fields and investigating workers’ complaints of abuse.

CIW is a community-based worker organization whose members are mostly Latino, Haitian and Mayan Indian immigrants working in low-wage jobs throughout Florida. It strives to be a community grounded in reflection and analysis, gives constant attention to coalition building across ethnic divisions, and provides an ongoing investment in leadership development to help members develop their skills in community education and organization.

From this basis, CIW’s members fight for a fair wage for the work they do and more respect on the part of employers and the industries in which they work. They also work to secure better and cheaper housing, stronger laws and enforcement against those who violate workers’ rights, the right to organize without fear of retaliation, and an end to indentured servitude in the fields.
Florida Conference Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker visited CIW leaders last September and pledged his support of the effort. He also wrote McDonald’s executives to urge the company to work with the group.

“I do not need to tell you what a difference this additional income and rights make in the lives of these hard-working persons who offer the most basic service of our society, which is providing us with food to eat,” Whitaker said in a statement on the CIW Web site. “As the bishop of The United Methodist Church in Florida, I am very impressed with the work of CIW and Interfaith Action. Along with other Christian communions, our church does all we can to support these fine organizations that are doing God’s work in the world.”
The Rev. Dr. Larry Rankin, director of the conference’s missions and justice ministry, said the conference will continue to support the agreement and CIW’s work.

“At the encouragement from Bishop Whitaker, the conference Global Mission and Justice committee will be involved with this issue and the development of a farm worker recognition or celebration to heighten awareness of this issue in local churches,” Rankin said. “We will be working with the CIW and Amos House (a Christian think-tank that fosters effective dialogue on poverty) to help us frame this event.”

Sarah Osmer

Sarah Osmer, co-coordinator of Interfaith Action of Southwest Florida, was another key player in the agreement. Interfaith Action is an Immokalee-based partner organization of CIW that spearheads education and organizing faith communities.

“This is a tremendous step forward in the struggle for farm worker justice,” Osmer said. “The CIW first reached an agreement with Taco Bell, which affected a fairly small number of farm workers and their families, roughly 1,000. Now we have the largest fast food chain in the world that signed on to work with the CIW to address farm workers’ poverty wages and inhumane working conditions.”

Osmer noted that in the aftermath of the McDonalds agreement, Taco Bell’s parent company Yum Brands announced it wanted to piggyback on the new venture.

“They did this voluntarily,” she said. “It shows it’s possible that people understand that this is nothing extraordinary or out of this world that the farmers are asking for. It’s basically human dignity, giving people what they deserve for hard work.”

Photo courtesy of National Farm Worker Ministry. Photo #07-0634. Web photo only.

After four years of struggle and boycotts, Taco Bell agreed to improve working conditions for tomato pickers in Florida. The United Methodist Church supported a boycott against Taco Bell that ended in March 2005.

The agreement with McDonald’s also occurred just before Osmer and her colleagues were preparing to declare a national boycott through its partnership with The Alliance for Fair Food, a network of human rights, religious, student, labor and grassroots organizations. The Alliance promotes principles and practices of socially responsible purchasing in the corporate food industry that advance and ensure the human rights of farm workers.

CIW has now set its sights on Burger King, which has publicly declared it prefers to offer workers jobs in its restaurants, rather than sign a similar agreement with CIW. A protest event is scheduled for Aug. 31 outside the fast food giant’s Miami headquarters. Osmer said children from a Catholic school in Miami have sent dozens of handwritten letters to Burger King executives urging them to work with CIW.

“(Jobs in Burger King restaurants) would do nothing to address farm worker poverty,” Osmer said. “They wanted to provide money through their charitable foundation to the workers.”

CIW’s Web site has been urging visitors to pressure Burger King. Osmer says it provides a link for visitors to “send an e-mail to Burger King’s executives to tell them, ‘Farm workers deserve a fair wage.’ ” The Web site also provides a link to an analysis Osmer has written on the McDonald’s agreement and promotes a form developed by the AFL-CIO that can be faxed to Burger King’s chief executive officer.

Interfaith Action recently received a $2,000 Peace With Justice grant from The United Methodist Board of Church and Society. The group applied for the grant before reaching the agreement with McDonald’s and was seeking resources to help it pressure fast-food companies to work with CIW to improve tomato pickers’ wages and working conditions.

“We’re quite grateful. It’s the first time we’ve received a grant,” Osmer said. “I think the main focus will be education of people of faith around farm worker issues, on moving from charity to justice.

“That’s one of the most powerful things we do — getting people to think about partnership, rather than just helping the poor or marginalized; really working for long-term justice, rather than focusing on charity. I hope this will be a vehicle for helping us further engage Methodists in Florida and across the country.”

CIW began organizing in 1993 as a small group of workers who met weekly in a room borrowed from a local church to discuss how to better their community and lives. Combining community-wide work stoppages with intense public pressure — including three general strikes, an unprecedented month-long hunger strike by six of its members in 1998 and a historic 230-mile march from Fort Myers to Orlando in 2000 — its early organizing ended more than 20 years of declining wages in the tomato industry.


This article relates to Church and Society.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**De Marco is a commissioned minister of the Florida Conference and a freelance writer, speaker and consultant.

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