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Student Groups Slam McDonald's Labor 'Study'

Student groups blast new McDonald's study, "Economic Impact: Tomatoes in
Florida, Report 1"

April 28, 2006

Mr. Jim Skinner, CEO McDonald's Corporation McDonald's Plaza Oak Brook, IL 60523

Mr. Skinner:

We expected better from your company.

No, we were not shocked when McDonald's initial response to the dire human rights crisis in Florida's fields resembled a carefully scripted crisis management plan.

No, we were not surprised when your company ­ in blatant contempt for the industry-changing precedents established in last year's agreement between the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) and Yum! Brands ­ embarked on a path to keep thousands of farmworkers in its tomato supply chain impoverished in pre-modern labor conditions.

No, we were not even taken aback when McDonald's commissioned (or, in simpler terms, bought) a study to ³prove² the rather difficult assertion that you are acting in the best interest of farmworkers by pushing them away from the table where decisions are made about their lives and keeping their wages at sub-poverty levels.

Where your paternalism and disregard for human dignity failed to shock us, the recent release of that report, "Economic Impact: Tomatoes in Florida, Report 1," completely astonished us. Simply put, this study is a joke, but the punchline is muted by the reality of grinding poverty for thousands of farmworkers.

Don't just take our word for it. Dr. Bruce Nissen, a well-respected labor economist and the Director of the Research Institute on Social and Economic Policy at Florida International University, recently commented that ³almost nowhere [in the study] are ordinary norms of social science research followed,² and therefore it ³should have no credibility whatsoever.² He continues:

Unfortunately, the work is so riddled with errors both large and small that it cannot be accepted as factually accurate on virtually any measure. The report fails to explain key questions (both methodological and substantive), contains numerous errors including simple matters of arithmetic, leaves out crucial pieces of information needed to understand the meaning of its supposed ³findings,² and arrives at conclusions that are based on false or non-existent comparisons and issues of judgment having no relationship with the study or its attempt at supplying data.

Therefore, little of substance can be concluded from the report, and to the extent that conclusions can be drawn, they would contradict what appears to be the author¹s main intent: to argue that workers picking tomatoes for McDonald¹s tomato suppliers are already better off than they would be if McDonalds agreed to the demand by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) to pay growers 1 cent more per pound of tomatoes with that cent passed on to the workers in wages. In fact, even taking the basic figures obtained from one McDonald¹s grower at face value, the opposite conclusion would be required.

Over two dozen scholars and counting in the fields of labor law, labor relations and social research have, upon reading your study, publicly stated they agree with Dr. Nissen¹s analysis.

It is one thing to commission a bogus study to prove that workers' calls for change are unfounded. This tactic has been deployed, albeit unsuccessfully, in the garment industry for years. However, to commission a study executed with such breathtaking incompetence is beyond the pale of comprehension.

Certainly a $1.2 billion annual advertising war chest can buy a better study than this. As we said, we expected better from your company.

In 2005, Larry Light, McDonald's global chief marketing officer, told the Nation's Restaurant News that, ³[McDonald's] new sweet spot is 18- to 24-year-olds.² You have spent tirelessly in an effort to buy our loyalty as consumers with hip, cool images of young people ³lovin'² McDonald's. Now you seem to believe that you can even buy off our commitment to standing in solidarity with farmworkers with a sinister PR move masquerading as science. Your disdain for our intelligence only fuels our anger.

Students and young people were on the front lines of the four-year Taco Bell Boycott and if you do not want to face similar protest, your actions are not making that clear. If you currently believe that we are your ³sweet spot,² we are here to tell you that we will become your sore spot. It's not too late to change course.


Student/Farmworker Alliance National Latino/a Law Student Association United Students Against Sweatshops United States Student Association Student Labor Action Project Living Wage Action Coalition

cc: Bob Langert, McDonald's, Director of Corporate Social Responsibility
Steve Ells, Chipotle Mexican Grill, CEO