Is Burger King Spying on Labor Activists?
Members of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers have exposed Burger King for its role in attempts to infiltrate and spy on the inner workings of a CIW-allied organization, the Student/Farmworker Alliance.
Both CIW and SFA are headquartered in Immokalee, Florida, where tomato pickers are demanding Burger King join with other tomato purchasers to better the wages and working conditions throughout the tomato industry. The CIW launched a campaign against the company in 2006 after their former targets, Taco Bell and McDonald's, agreed to workers' demands.
After running successful drives against two giant fast-food companies, organizers in Immokalee are used to corporate misinformation and public relations spin. With more than a decade of organizing under their belt, though, they had yet to worry much about the supporters who call the office and ask to help.
Organizers began to grow wary after receiving a March 8 email from a University of Virginia student named "Kevin" from the email address "stopcorporategreed at live.com." The same address had leaked to the Associated Press an internal Burger King memo stating that the company was considering cutting off its purchases of Florida tomatoes--a move that would devastate the campaign.
"If you're a student in Virginia, how do you get access to a Burger King internal document?" asked Marc Rodrigues, a Student/Farmworker Alliance organizer. "We wrote back that we'd love to send them an organizing packet and to send us an address. We never heard back."
Investigations heightened their anxiety. The email address originated out of a suburb of Miami, where Burger King is headquartered, not Virginia. "Kevin" had also requested access to the organization's upcoming conference call, but it wasn't until a few days later that the request stood out.
Rodrigues received a call March 11 from Cara Schaffer, who said she attended a local community college and was excited to support the campaign. Like the University of Virginia student, Schaffer immediately inquired about access to the organization's national conference call.
But the student organizers soon realized that Schaffer was not one of them--in fact, she is the president of Diplomatic Tactical Services, a Florida-based corporate espionage firm. According to the company's website, DTS specializes in "handling all types of investigative activity during strikes, organizational [sic] attempts, secondary pickets, negotiations, and decertification drives." It offers its corporate clients covert surveillance services and the ability to place undercover operatives inside target groups.