Scholars’ Statement on Rights of Farmworkers Producing for McDonalds

 Scholars’ Statement on Rights of
Farmworkers Producing for McDonalds

April 24, 2006


* Robert B. Reich
Professor of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley
Former Secretary of Labor

* William B. Gould IV
Professor of Labor Law, Stanford Law School
Former Chair, National Labor Relations Board

* Paul C. Weiler
Professor of Labor Law, Harvard Law School
Former Chief Counsel to the President’s Commission on the Future of Worker- Management Relations

We issue this statement in response to McDonalds’ recent refusal to act constructively in the face of serious infringements of the rights of farmworkers who pick tomatoes that go into McDonalds’ products.  McDonalds has refused to engage in good-faith discussions with the Florida farmworkers’ democratically constituted organization.  At the same time, McDonalds has unilaterally commissioned studies to validate McDonalds’ own labor policies.  For the reasons we set forth, McDonalds’ unilateral actions are inappropriate and obstructive.

Florida farmworkers suffer the same miserable conditions experienced by generations of farmworkers, including forced labor and wages that leave them in deep poverty.

In constructive, good-faith negotiations between Taco Bell and the (CIW), the Florida farmworkers articulated the needs they consider an immediate priority – an end to slavery and other forms of forced labor, increased wages, and other basic worker rights. 

Taco Bell and the Florida farmworkers reached an agreement last spring. The agreement has at least three major components:  It stipulates basic worker rights (including an end to slavery); it authorizes CIW to participate fully in enforcing the code of worker rights; and it establishes an innovative program for increasing workers’ wages by approximately eighty percent.  For impoverished migrant workers struggling to improve their families’ lives, securing increased monetary wages is not secondary but rather is absolutely fundamental to their human dignity. 

The wage increase is achieved by paying workers an additional “penny per pound” of tomatoes picked for Taco Bell.  Taco Bell is responsible for paying that increment directly to farmworkers, who are otherwise employed and paid by tomato growers. 

The partnership between Taco Bell and CIW is a first step toward achieving basic justice for workers.  It is not the last step.  It is imperative that other big buyers – other fast-food chains and big grocery outlets – also enter into partnership with the CIW and broaden the gains already achieved by the Florida farmworkers’ democratically constituted organization.

Last spring, former President Jimmy Carter wrote:

“I commend the for their principled leadership in this very important campaign.  I am pleased that Taco Bell has taken a leadership role to help reform working conditions for Florida farmworkers and has committed to use its power to effect positive human rights change.  I now call on others in the industry to follow Taco Bell’s lead to help the tomato farmworkers.”

McDonalds, the most powerful force in the fast-food industry, recently announced that it rejected this path toward justice for farmworkers.  McDonalds declined to take responsibility for increasing the wages paid by its growers, leaving the economic responsibility and burden with the growers.   The growers have adamantly refused to improve workers’ lives, in part because big buyers like McDonalds place their growers under severe pressure to reduce prices, costs, and wages. The ultimate buyers of tomatoes – the fast-food chains and grocery chains — have vastly greater resources and bargaining power than the growers and must therefore bear joint responsibility with growers for improving farmworkers’ terms and conditions of employment, including wages.  Taco Bell has taken this important step, and McDonalds should do the same.

Equally important, McDonalds has shunned partnership with the farmworkers.  McDonalds has instead decided it knows best which grower-provided benefits should be a priority for the farmworkers, without entering into good-faith discussions with the workers’ own chosen representatives.  McDonalds has not recognized workers’ elemental right to participate in formulating the rules under which they work and in monitoring and enforcing those rules.

McDonalds has commissioned “studies” by two hand-picked researchers, one of whom is paid by McDonalds, to verify that the benefits it has unilaterally urged growers to implement are better for the farmworkers than the wages and benefits that the farmworkers themselves may gain through good-faith negotiations with McDonalds.  The studies commissioned by McDonalds are manifestly a part of McDonalds’ strategy of denying the right of farmworkers’ own representatives to participate in the formulation and enforcement of a code of conduct. 

We do not in principle oppose independent studies to determine the benefits and costs of various programs for improving the lives of farmworkers.  But the studies that McDonalds has unilaterally commissioned are premature (since McDonalds has not yet negotiated in good faith with CIW over a code of conduct) and indeed are patently aimed at preempting a fair process of engagement with CIW.

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We call on McDonalds to do the right thing.  McDonalds should negotiate in good faith with CIW, should agree on a fair code of conduct that reflects workers’ own priorities, should take direct financial responsibility for improved wages and benefits rather than passing the buck to McDonalds’ growers, and should ensure that farmworkers are able to participate fully in monitoring and enforcing the code of conduct.   There is no question that McDonalds has the resources and clout to do these things.  It lacks only the will.



* Robert B. Reich, Professor of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, and former Secretary of Labor
* William B. Gould IV, Professor of Labor Law, Stanford Law School, and former Chair, National Labor Relations Board
* Paul C. Weiler, Professor of Labor Law, Harvard Law School, and former Chief Counsel to the President’s Commission on the Future of Worker- Management Relations