Students protested, Burger King responded

Members of USF’s Society for Social Justice (SSJ) said they felt victorious when the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) and Burger King announced they would work together to improve wages and working conditions for Florida farmers.

SSJ held a protest March 31 in front of the campus Burger King against the low wages paid to farm workers who pick tomatoes for the company.

The compromise, made May 23, stated that Burger King has agreed to pay the farmers 1.5 cents more per pound, along with other financial incentives. One cent will go into the pockets of the farmers, while the half-cent will go toward payroll taxes. Burger King also agreed to join other fast-food chain leaders in increasing the farmers’ wages and creating a stronger Vendor Code of Conduct to regulate laws.

USF graduate and former vice president and co-founder of the SSJ Lauren Maxwell participated in the protest. She is interning with the Student/Farmworker Alliance, an allied organization of the CIW, and said the agreement makes her very hopeful.

“I feel like a lot of people think that change can’t ever really happen, and I think it just shows that if you persevere through something and you really stick it out, that change will come. And you show you won’t give up till there is change,” Maxwell said.

Kaileen Schleith, SSJ member and a junior majoring in fine arts, said she was ecstatic when she heard the news.

“I guess it’s just personal feelings of accomplishment and relief,” she said.

This was the outcome the SSJ hoped for when they protested in the spring. The campaign has been going on for a year and half, Maxwell said, and there were many twists and turns to get this point.

John Chidsey, CEO of Burger King, said in a statement that the company is pleased to work with the CIW and apologizes for any negative statements about the CIW or its motives attributed to Burger King or its employees. He said they now realize those statements were wrong.

Burger King also acknowledged that it hired a private security firm – with which it is no longer affiliated – to gather information about student and farm worker organizations that were demanding the increase in pay.

Maxwell said she doesn’t know whether Chidsey made the statement solely for the company’s image or really meant it.

“I hope their apology is genuine,” she said.

Schleith said she felt Burger King’s apology seemed disingenuous, perhaps driven more by surrender than remorse.

“It’s not really socially conscious – they just were tired of fighting,” she said. “I wish corporations were socially responsible because they wanted to be, not because we have to fight for it.”