Why is Burger King Spying on Student Labor Organizers?

Yesterday morning, Burger King's Senior Analyst of Communications, Denise Wilson, sent me an e-mail saying that the company had "terminated two employees who participated in unauthorized activity on public Web sites which did not reflect the company's views and which were in violation of company policy and its ‘Code of Business Ethics and Conduct.'" The statement also said, "The company has discontinued the services provided by Diplomatic Tactical Services, Inc. (DTS) for violation of the company's code of conduct." CEO John Chidsey claimed, "Neither I nor any of my senior management team were aware of or condone the unauthorized activities in question."

The statement raised as many questions as it answered, such as which two employees were fired? "We do not comment on personnel matters," Wilson replied. (Shortly thereafter, the dismissed employees were identified by Amy Bennett Williams of the Fort Myers News-Press as vice president Steven Grover and spokesman Keva Silversmith.)

What did DTS do that was a "violation of the company's code of conduct"? "DTS is no longer a vendor due to its violation of BKC's code of conduct," Wilson wrote back.

Say what?

Steve Grover is a Vice President and was the point-person in all of the talks with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) regarding these labor issues. He was linked to the web postings – so how is it that no one on the senior management team knew about the "unauthorized activities"? "Steve Grover, although he is a vice president, is not considered part of senior management," Wilson said.

Alright. Well, how was it that Burger King employees – outside the knowledge of the CEO and his senior management team – were able to issue orders to DTS, including the infiltration of the Student/Farmworker Alliance (SFA)? Pay DTS for these services, etc.? "Senior management did not request and had no knowledge of the reported improper DTS activities related to meetings of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) or Student/Farmworker Alliance (SFA)," Wilson insisted.

But here's the kicker. Mr. Chidsey's comments in October at Davidson College are strikingly similar to the comments on the web that BKC now says "do not reflect the company's views" and have led to the two firings. These false statements included: "The union said the money has to go in the union coffers and ‘we'll decide what's better for the workers.'" If this doesn't reflect the views of the company, shouldn't Mr. Chidsey make a public apology for those comments at the very least? How can some BKC employees be "terminated" for echoing the public comments of their CEO, while the CEO himself just moves on without any acknowledgment or penalty for his own error or culpability in setting this tone?

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