PCUSA Head Takes Tomato Challenge to McDonalds

The head of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. has endorsed a call for McDonalds to improve working conditions and raise the pay of its tomato pickers.

In a letter released on Wednesday, the Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, stated clerk of the two-million-member denomination, challenged the fast food chain giant to “put an end to human rights violations” by bringing an “adequate solution to the grievous conditions and sub-poverty wages of farmworkers.”

"Farmworkers are explicitly excluded from the National Labor Relations Act, which denies them the right to organize, the right to negotiate with their employers, and the right to appeal grievances to the National Labor Relations Board," Kirpatrick wrote. "Current law does not provide farmworkers with overtime pay or secure other benefits such as healthcare."

The PC(USA), the nation’s largest and wealthiest Presbyterian denomination, just recently ended a successful three-year boycott of Taco Bell and Yum! Brands Inc. over the working conditions of immigrant tomato pickers in Florida. The PC(USA) was also the first mainline denomination to join the boycott and stand by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers – “a human rights award-winning, worker-led community organization of Mexican, Guatemalan and Haitian laborers.”

In March 2005, Yum! Brands consented and nearly doubled the per-pound wage of tomato pickers.

According to Kirkpatrick, workers who pick tomatoes in Florida for McDonalds still earn just 40 to 45 cents for every 32-pound bucket they pick and haul – the same wage they received more than 25 years ago.

“McDonald's has a clear moral responsibility to take leadership to assure just working conditions and compensation for the very persons who provide the products which are at the heart of its operation,” Kirkpatrick wrote. “Any corporation which benefits through the exploitation of others is gravely implicated in such exploitation and has a moral and ethical responsibility to end that exploitation.”