To growers, McDonald's tomato deal has bad taste

Published May 25, 2007

MIAMI - The largest group of Florida tomato growers on Thursday rejected a recent deal between McDonald's Corp. and an advocacy group that would pay field workers more for the fruit.

The Florida Tomato Growers Exchange said it was advised by several attorneys that participating in the deal could leave them open to racketeering and antitrust lawsuits.

"Involvement in such a potentially unlawful sales enterprise with unaffiliated third parties is not an option for any American farmer and should not be an option for restaurant and retail companies, " according to a statement by the grower's group.

The move leaves in question whether McDonald's will continue to buy from Florida tomato growers.

McDonald's said in a statement that the company stood by its agreement with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers advocacy group.

"We believe we're doing the right thing, " the statement said. "We're reviewing a letter from the Florida growers. We're committed to working with suppliers and workers to improve working and living conditions."

The coalition maintains tomato pickers are generally paid about 45 cents per 32-pound bucket. The extra penny a pound would boost their pay to about 77 cents a bucket. The Tomato Exchange puts the number closer to 50 cents per bucket, with average hourly wages at $12.48 per hour.