God's Politics

God's Politics

Sarah Osmer: Florida Farmworkers Make Peace with McDonald’s

A glimmer of Isaiah’s vision of the peaceable kingdom (Isaiah 11:6-9) – a vision of peace, reconciliation, and justice – is realized in the partnership recently formed between the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) and the McDonald’s corporation. The CIW, a farmworker organization based in rural Southwest Florida, has led two successful efforts to improve wages and working conditions in the fields, first winning an agreement with Taco Bell, and now with the McDonald’s, the two largest fast-food chains in the world. McDonald’s will now work with the CIW to pay a penny more per pound of tomatoes directly to the farmworkers who harvest its tomatoes, enforce a stronger code of conduct based on the principle of worker participation, collaboratively develop a third-party mechanism for monitoring conditions in the fields, and investigate workers’ complaints of abuse.

For two years, a war of words was waged between the farmworker organization from Immokalee and the fast-food giant. The CIW and Interfaith Action of Southwest Florida, a faith-based partner to the CIW, educated consumers across the country about the sweatshop and slavery conditions facing farmworkers in the agricultural industry today. Florida tomato pickers must pick two tons of tomatoes to earn just $50 in a day, a pay rate that’s been stagnant for almost 30 years. They regularly work 10-12 hour days with no overtime pay, no health insurance, no right to organize, no sick days, and no benefits whatsoever. Recognizing the tremendous market power of fast-food corporations like McDonald’s, Taco Bell, and Burger King to control conditions and push down prices in their supply chains, the CIW focused its “Campaign for Fair Food” on calling these companies to address the inhumane conditions of farmworkers who harvest their tomatoes.

McDonald’s, however, initially chose to view the situation in its suppliers’ fields not as a human rights crisis to be addressed but as a public relations fire to be extinguished. The company responded to the CIW with a public relations campaign, undertaking a series of moves aimed more at quelling the public outcry than changing the underlying exploitation faced daily by workers in the fields.

Christians and people of faith from many traditions joined the farmworkers’ struggle for justice. Interfaith Action’s national network and people of faith across the country took action – clergy wrote letters to McDonald’s, denominational bodies passed resolutions in support of the Campaign for Fair Food, mission committees invited CIW farmworkers to speak in their churches, hundreds of people of faith organized peaceful protests and marched alongside the farmworkers, congregations lodged and fed CIW members during national tours, and Sojourners’ action alert generated several thousand e-mails to the McDonald’s executives.

It seemed, at times, that the day when the CIW and McDonald’s would work together as partners would never come, and that an unjust status quo might prevail. But on April 9 of this year, it finally happened! As a result of the growing call of the CIW, people of faith, and consumers across the country, the farmworkers and the corporate giant McDonald’s reached a historic agreement for dignity and justice for tomato pickers. Now, we’ve seen a glimpse of God’s peaceable kingdom that Isaiah describes – the lion is living with the lamb, the high-power corporate executives are joining together with exploited farmworkers – for justice and dignity.

Today, the CIW is calling on Burger King to do the same, as the movement for fair food and justice for farmworkers continues to grow. You too can be a part of this vibrant movement! Visit and for more information and ways to become involved.

Sarah Osmer is co-coordinator of Interfaith Action of Southwest Florida, an ally organization of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) that educates and animates people of faith to partner with the CIW in their efforts to improve wages and working conditions for farmworkers and put an end to modern-day slavery in the agricultural industry.

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posted May 21, 2007 at 7:02 pm

Congratulations CIW! This is the best way to bring change and get people to see the error of their ways, being pleasant but persistant. It’s much preferable to using the big hand of the state to force change. I hope this has effects on other industries and restaura

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kevin s.

posted May 21, 2007 at 7:20 pm

“I hope this has effects on other industries and restaura” I briefly had a vision of Eric being struck dead, hsi head falling on the “publish” key as he died. Probably not, though. Yeah, these things tend to be resolved by public relations, but I much prefer this solution to governmentally imposed solutions.

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Mick Sheldon

posted May 21, 2007 at 7:28 pm

This is a good thing . But is not part of the promlem undocumented workers who are too intimidated to speak up for themselves ?

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God's Politics Moderator

posted May 21, 2007 at 7:59 pm

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Ephesians 4:29) This message thread has been visited by a God’s Politics Blog moderator for the purpose of removing inappropriate posts. Click here for a detailed explanation of the Beliefnet Rules of Conduct: which includes: Help us keep the conversation civil and respectful by reporting inappropriate posts to: 5

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posted May 21, 2007 at 8:01 pm

haha…looking back at my post. I’m still alive Kevin! I hit publish too soon. Mike – yes, part of the problem stems from the fact that many of the workers who work in the fields didn’t get agricultural worker visas and their employers didn’t make use of the current agricultural program. If they had they would have been guaranteed a certain standard of living once here.

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kevin s.

posted May 21, 2007 at 9:41 pm

How did this post illicit an inappropriate response?

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Mark P

posted May 21, 2007 at 10:42 pm

Yeah, I’m kinda confused too about the inappropriate deal. In any case, well done and I’m glad it didn’t end up in new legislation either.

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posted May 21, 2007 at 11:29 pm

I’m so happy about this. Mine was one of those thousands of sojourner’s action alert email sent. This was just a small step…praise the lord, though.

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posted May 21, 2007 at 11:35 pm

Well Done Sojoners! It makes me happy to see Sojoners rely on market solutions to solve economic problems rather than government intervention.

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posted May 22, 2007 at 6:09 am

“How did this post illicit an inappropriate response?” two dreaded terms = kevin s :)

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God's Politics Moderator

posted May 22, 2007 at 8:47 pm

There was nothing inappropriate in this comment thread. The notice is our way of keeping track of which comment threads have been read and monitored.

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