(May 30, 2:06 p.m.) Farm workers in Immokalee, Fla., claimed a victory after Burger King agreed to pay them an extra penny per-pound for the tomatoes they pick, but it remains to be seen whether growers actually will participate in the program.

Reggie Brown, manager of the Maitland-based Florida Tomato Committee and executive vice president of the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange Inc., said growers have “legitimate legal and fairness concerns” regarding the penny-per-pound plan.

“The critical fact is that no one can identify which worker should receive an additional payment, nor can the correct payment be calculated,” he said. “And if the extra-penny funds are distributed among all of the workers, the fact is some will be paid too much and others won’t get what is due them. This is neither right nor fair.”

The increase would cost Burger King up to $325,000 a year — meaning that the company buys up to 32.5 million pounds of Florida tomatoes — said Amy Wagner, a senior vice president at Burger King, as quoted in The Miami Herald.

Yum Brands Inc., which owns Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, agreed to the extra payments in 2005, and McDonald’s followed suit last year.

However, the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange threatened to fine members that participated in the plan, and the vast majority of the state’s tomato growers are members. The extra payments instead have been going into escrow.

Brown said the grower organization no longer is threatening to fine members, but he said it is discouraging its membership from participating in the plan.

“We don’t disagree with the penny,” he said. “There are other ways to get it to the workers without involving us.”

Lucas Benitez of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers said it was unclear what effect the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange’s discouragement would have on its members.

“Our hope is that any willing members will be allowed to pursue their individual interests, as they were doing before the fine was implemented,” Benitez said. “However, it is yet to be seen if that will be the case.”

The growers exchange says on its Web site that workers are paid an average of $12.46 an hour and are provided housing. However, the coalition has disputed the wage claims. Benitez said that if the Burger King deal is implemented, workers’ wages would increase 70%.

The coalition’s prolonged fight with Burger King Corp. ended May 23 when the Miami-based chain announced it will pay workers the extra penny per pound. It also offered to pay growers a half-cent per pound to cover additional payroll taxes and administrative costs.

The fast-food chain agreed to the plan about two weeks after it fired two employees in a related incident. The Fort Myers News-Press reported that Steven Grover, Burger King’s vice president of food safety, quality assurance and regulatory compliance, used his daughter’s online alias to make derogatory comments about the workers’ group.

The News-Press reported that Grover and spokesman Keva Silversmith were fired, and the company will no longer use the services of Diplomatic Tactical Services, a Hollywood, Fla.-based investigative firm that had been used to spy on the workers group.

“We apologize for any negative statements about the CIW or its motives previously attributed to BKC or its employees and now realize that those statements were wrong,” Burger King chief executive officer John Chidsey said in a statement.

Chidsey also encouraged other buyers to support the workers.

During a May 23 press conference, Benitez said companies such as Subway and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. also could make a difference because of the volumes they purchase. He took a more direct approach with two other buyers.

“There are companies, like Chipotle in the restaurant world and Whole Foods in the grocery industry, that already make claims to social responsibility yet, when it comes to tomatoes, fall far short of their lofty claims,” he said. “It is time now that those companies live out the true meaning of their marketers’ words.”

Benitez said May 28 that the workers’ coalition wasn’t necessarily planning to focus on one company, as it did with Burger King, going forward.

“Our hope is that all members of the food industry that purchase Florida tomatoes will recognize the need to buy those tomatoes in socially responsible conditions,” he said. “It’s not about targets or individual companies, but about a change that is long overdue and coming.”