(Jan. 27) As McDonald’s goes, it seems, so goes the rest of the quick-service restaurant industry.

Perhaps that’s why a group that says it represents Florida’s immigrant tomato pickers isn’t happy with the Oak Brook, Ill.-based hamburger giant’s recent voice of support for new workplace policies created by Florida tomato growers.

In November, McDonald’s Corp. issued a statement supporting Socially Accountable Farm Employers, a not-for-profit agency designed to protect field workers.

“SAFE provides verifiable protection for workers and offers assurance that lawful wages and workplace safety protections are provided to workers,” McDonald’s said.

The Maitland-based Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association and the grower-funded Redlands Christian Migrant Association, recently launched SAFE.

The decision to do so was not in response to allegations by organizations such as the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, which took a lead role in a recent boycott of Yum Brands-owned Taco Bell that led to the latter instituting a penny-per-pound pay raise for Florida tomato pickers. Rather, SAFE is a response to customer demands, said Mike Stuart, FFVA president.

“It’s kind of bubbled up from the industry, where’s there’s been a need in the buying community for social-accountability programs that are now starting to transcend down through the supply chain,” he said. “And I think the center of the industry recognizes that this is coming, and they had better be prepared for how to deal with it.”

That McDonald’s has embraced SAFE is a legitimate good-faith effort, Stuart said.

“McDonald’s is recognized worldwide for their social responsibility programs,” he said. “They have a staff dedicated to it. There’s a section of their Web site that is dedicated to it. So clearly, they’re a player in terms of driving this. As big a buyer of fruits and vegetables as they are, I don’t think the industry can afford to ignore that.”

But the workers coalition, which claims a membership of 3,000, isn’t buying into it. And it doesn’t like being left out of the program’s development.

“SAFE is headed in the wrong direction — no worker participation in the creation of the code, no transparency whatsoever about its origins, the most minimal requirements by law and employer control of the process from A to Z,” the coalition said.