This article is part of the Center for Media & Democracy's spotlight on global corporations.
Burger King Holdings, Inc. operates the world's second largest hamburger chain based on locations; after McDonald's, with over 12,000 restaurants in the United States and over 70 other countries. Burger King is now the third-largest hamburger chain based on sales, behind Wendy's. In addition to its popular Whopper sandwich, the chain offers a selection of burgers, chicken sandwiches, salads, breakfast items, beverages, desserts and sides. Many of the outlets are stand-alone locations offering dine-in seating and drive-through services. The chain also has outlets in high-traffic locations like airports and shopping malls.
The Investment firm 3G Capital acquired over 90% of Burger King in 2010. Burger King announced in April 2012 that it plans to go public again in the next three months, re-listing its shares on the New York Stock Exchange.
In the fiscal year ending in June of 2010, the company reported sales of approximately $2.5 billion dollars and had 38,884 employees.
- "There's good reason such service-sector positions are called 'McJobs'," wrote Fast Food Nation author Eric Schlosser.
His Los Angeles Times piece described California State Proposition 72 as:
- "an initiative that would require large and medium-sized business owners to give health benefits to their workers. ... The fast-food industry is the nation's largest employer of minimum-wage labor. ... Led by McDonald's, the industry has pioneered a workforce that earns low wages, gets little training, receives few benefits and has one of the highest turnover rates of any trade."
Other opponents of Proposition 72 included Burger King, Wendy's, Walgreen, Best Buy, Target, Sears and YUM! Brands (owner of Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and KFC), the California Chamber of Commerce and the California Restaurant Association. The state legislature had already passed a bill in 2003, signed into law by then-Governor Gray Davis, that required larger businesses to offer health care benefits. But fast-food companies, big box retail chains and their allies spent millions of dollars to rescind the law through the initiative process. In their campaign to defeat the initiative, the same groups ran television ads relying on "scare tactics, distortions and ... fundamental misrepresentation(s) of Proposition 72."  Proposition 72 failed.
Farm worker issues
According to National Public Radio's Marketplace in January 2008:
- "For the past two years, Burger King has stood firm and said no" to a demand from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) that the company pay a penny more per pound for its tomatoes. That would double (tomato pickers') wages and cost BK $250,000 a year. ...Just after Thanksgiving of 2007, the Florida tomato pickers held a large rally outside Burger King headquarters in Miami. Now it's surfaced that three weeks later, BK sent a note to suppliers saying it may no longer buy tomatoes from southwestern Florida." 
According to the Ft. Myers News-Press:
In March 2008, CIW announced plans to launch "a high-profile, multi-faceted national campaign and the threat of a boycott designed to persuade Burger King to pay a penny more a pound for tomatoes and 'eliminate slavery and human rights abuses from Florida’s field.'" 
CIW previously used similar grassroots pressure tactics to get Taco Bell / Yum! Brands to agree to the penny-a-pound increase in 2005, and McDonald's in 2007. Burger King's refusal to do the same prompted Senate labor committee member Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., to call for Senate hearings on farm conditions, in April of 2008.
According to former Burger King Director of Communications Keva Silversmith:
- "We have no evidence it will improve the lives of the farm workers. ... For an increase in wages, it will have to be the farm employers who directly influence the farm workers." 
Smearing farm workers online
When articles or videos about the coalition (of Immokalee Workers, or CIW) were posted on YouTube and various Internet news sites, a user under the names of activist2008 or surfxaholic36 attached comments which coalition member Greg Asbed described as "libelous", according to Amy Bennett Williams in April of 2008. According to one comment:
- "The CIW is an attack organization lining the leaders pockets ... They make up issues and collect money from dupes that believe their story. To (sic) bad the people protesting don't have a clue regarding the facts. A bunch of fools!" 
According to Burger King Vice President Stephen Grover's daughter, Shannon, it was her father who posted posted the anti-CIW comments:
- "I don't really know much about the coalition and Burger King stuff,' she said, reached by phone at the family's Miramar home Friday. 'That was my dad. My dad used to go online with that name and write about them." 
According to CIW's Gerardo Reyes the VP's anonymous anti-CIW comments were "truly disturbing":
- "When you realize the person posting those things is actually Burger King's vice president in charge of the ethical operation of the company's supply chain, it really makes you wonder just how high up does this whole thing go? Does Burger King, as a company, approve of this sort of behavior? If not, we'd expect to see some changes now that this has come to light." 
Spying on farm workers
In March of 2008, "a woman using the name of Cara Schaffer contacted the Student/Farmworker Alliance, under the guise of a student at Broward Community College. Although her eagerness aroused suspicions, she was allowed to participate in two planning sessions. Internet searches revealed that she was not a college student, but the owner of the firm Diplomatic Tactical Services.  According to Eric Shlosser:
- "In an interview, a Burger King executive told me that the company had worked with Diplomatic Tactical Services for years on 'security-related matters' and had used it to obtain information about the Student/Farmworker Alliance’s plans -- in order to prevent acts of violence. 'It is both the corporation’s right and duty,' a company spokesman later wrote in an e-mail message to me, 'to protect its employees and assets from potential harm.' ... John Chidsey, the CEO of Burger King, knew about the use of Diplomatic Tactical Services." 
However, the Student/Farmworker Alliance and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers are not dangerous, extremist groups. Both are pacifist, mainstream nonprofits inspired by the work of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.. The coalition is supported by the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Foundation, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and Pax Christi, the Catholic peace movement. 
Agreeing to the raise
In May of 2008, following revelations of online smear campaigns and espionage against farm worker advocacy groups, Burger King signed an agreement with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. Under the deal, Burger King agreed to pay 1.5 cents more per pound of tomatoes it buys from Florida growers, with a penny of that given to workers. To encourage participation, the rest goes to growers to help cover any additional payroll taxes and administrative costs.  Implementation of previous similar agreements signed by McDonald's and Yum! Brands stalled, after "the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange threatened $100,000 fines to any grower member who participated" in the penny-more-per-pound agreement. Approximately 90% of the state's tomato growers belong to the exchange. In May of 2008, the exchange announced that it would no longer threaten members with fines ... in response to "inordinate and inappropriate focus by the media." 
Public relations & lobbying
Burger King Corporation retains the public relations firm Coyne.
Its lobbyists include Khalil G. "Karl" Saliba, of the firm Saliba Action Strategies. Burger King vice-president Craig S. Prusher is also a registered lobbyist for the company. 
5505 Blue Lagoon Drive
Miami, FL 33126
Web address: http://www.burgerking.com
- Berman & Co.
- Cara N. Schaffer
- Diplomatic Tactical Services
- Meat & Dairy industry
- Processed food industry
- War on Animals
- Wendy's edges out Burger King as second-largest hamburger chain, [Wichita Business Journal], March 20, 2012
- Burger King Profile, Hoovers, accessed January 2010
- Burger King to go public -- again, Los Angeles Times, April 4, 2012
- Key Burger King Holdings, Inc. Financials, Hoovers, accessed January 2010
- Eric Schlosser Super-Sized Deception From Fast-Food Giants, Los Angeles Times, October 2004
- Dan Grech A cent too far for Burger King: Burger King's two-year battle with Florida tomato pickers over a penny-per-pound raise is coming to a head with the news that BK has begun planning to buy tomatoes elsewhere, National Public Radio, January 16, 2008.
- Amy Bennett Williams, "Immokalee workers raise stakes; May boycott fast-food chain in try to raise tomato prices" Ft. Myers News-Press (Florida), March 5, 2008.
- Sasha Roe, "[Activists rally at Burger King locations: Coalitions unite behind farm workers for better wages]," The University Daily Kansan (University of Kansas), August 24, 2007
- Amy Bennett Williams, "Burger King VP puts self on grill: Daughter says dad wrote anti-coaltion postings," The News Press (Fort Myers, Florida), April 28, 2008.
- Eric Schlosser, "Burger With a Side of Spies," New York Times, May 7, 2008.
- Amy Bennett Williams, "Tomato pickers celebrate deal with Burger King: After three years, Immokalee workers receive increase," The News Press (Fort Myers, Florida), May 24, 2008.
- "QSRweb.com", September 20, 2011.
- "Burger King Corporation," profile, Lobbyists.info (sub req'd), accessed April 9, 2008.
- Burger King lobbying expenses, Open Secrets, accessed January 2011
- 2010 PAC Summary Data, Open Secrets, accessed January 2011
- Burger King Holdings Inc 10-K/A, Filed on 03/29/2012