(Nov. 8) Citing potential legal issues, Florida tomato growers are bowing out of deals two fast-food giants cut with a labor-rights group.

Defending their record on workers’ wage and benefits, grower members of the Maitland-based Florida Tomato Growers Exchange voted not to pay an extra penny per pound of tomatoes this season, as mandated by Yum! Brands Inc., Irvine, Calif., and McDonald's USA, Oak Brook, Ill.

In practice, the move only affects growers’ deals with Yum! — the umbrella corporation for Taco Bell, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut and other chains — because the McDonald’s penny-per-pound deal never went into effect, said Reggie Brown, executive vice president of the exchange.

And what practical effect, if any, the decision would have on growers’ relationship with Yum! is yet to be decided, Brown said.

“We don’t know what steps Yum! will take,” he said. “Taking their business to Mexico doesn’t do much for workers in the U.S.”

If Yum! does stop sourcing tomatoes from Florida, the Sunshine State’s growers are prepared to deal with it, Brown said.

Jonathan Blum, senior vice president and chief public affairs officer for Yum!, said the company would continue its penny-per-pound policy.

"Our agreement with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers for the Florida tomato pickers still stands,” he said. “We think it's the right thing to do."

Brown said attorneys have warned that deals the Immokalee, Fla.-based Coalition made with Yum! and McDonald's risk violating federal and state antitrust, labor and racketeering laws.