Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW),
an organization of Florida
farmworkers, led the march with the assistance of
Columbus-area church leaders, students, and Ohio Fair Food. The
March 9 event was part of a ten-day, ten-city campaign dubbed
the “Now is the Time Tour.”
As part of its demand for dignity in the fields, CIW has set out
to pressure corporate giants to support a penny-per-pound pay
increase for tomato pickers, back up a zero-tolerance policy for
abuse and sexual harassment, and allow farmworkers to organize
and work safely. CIW, so far, has been successful with a dozen
large fast-food and grocery corporations in its Fair Food
program. The latest to sign on was Walmart in January.
CIW, similar to the work of the Toledo-based Farm Labor
Organizing Committee (FLOC), is looking to address decades-old
farm labor abuses at the heart of the nation's
trillion-dollar food industry. FLOC, in recent years, has
concentrated much of its efforts in the tobacco fields of the
south. CIW’s membership now numbers 5,000 farmworkers, many who
were born in México, Guatemala, and Haiti.
While FLOC has turned to boycotts in its efforts to organize
migrant farmworkers and pressure large employers such as
Campbell’s Soup, Mt. Olive Pickle, and RJ Reynolds
Tobacco Company, CIW and its supporters have stopped short
of that tactic so far with Wendy’s.
“The pressure on Wendy’s will only escalate from here,
especially with the Boot the Braids campaign gathering
momentum,” said Rubén Castilla
Herrera of Ohio Fair
Food, a group consisting of students, farmworkers,
people of faith, and organized labor.
Ohio State University has a Student/Farmworker Alliance (SFA)
chapter, which is meeting with university administrators,
putting pressure on them to end existing contracts with Wendy’s.
For example, the OSU chapter wants administrators to close a
small Wendy’s restaurant located at the Wexner Medical Center on
campus. Other campus SFA chapters across the country are staging
similar “Boot the Braids” efforts, a reference to the braids
worn by the Wendy’s mascot, which is modeled after the daughter
of the fast-food chain’s late founder, Dave Thomas. There are 20
U.S. universities with a Wendy’s.
“Wendy’s can no longer turn its back on a program that is
concretely improving thousands of farm workers' lives and
setting the international gold standard
for business supply chain
ethics,” said Santiago Pérez, a farmworker and CIW
A CIW theater
troupe even performed a play at the March rally. Entitled “Lo Bueno… y Lo Horrible,” the
play is designed to provide a public framework for understanding
the differences between humane working conditions on Fair Food
Program farms and those found on farms outside the
program—including the provision of shade and sufficient drinking
CIW contends that companies like Wendy’s play a role in encouraging
poor conditions in the fields and prolong farmworker poverty by
turning a blind eye to the situation. The farm worker organizing
group wants such corporate giants to use their high-volume
purchasing power to provide hope for higher wages by agreeing to
pay the penny-per-pound increase. One other potential CIW target
is the Ohio-based Kroger grocery chain.
Fair Food supporters contend the lack of commitment by Wendy’s
to their program makes it look as if the company is part of the
problem, where huge companies use their size to demand lower
prices thereby encouraging falling farm-worker wages.
Ohio Fair Food staged its own march and protest rally last fall,
when 50 of its members gathered in the rain outside a Wendy’s
restaurant just south of the Ohio State University campus.
According to the group,
Wendy’s is the only one of the five largest
fast food corporations in the
country not participating in the Fair Food program.
Supporters staged another protest in mid-December outside
Wendy’s new flagship restaurant near its suburban Columbus
headquarters. While the fast-food chain celebrated that grand
opening, about 100 faith leaders and
concerned consumers picketed outside with a Florida tomato
picker who had traveled to Ohio for the protest.
Herrera called it “very ironic and interesting” that current
Emil Brolick was Taco Bell’s CEO when CIW’s first Fair Food agreement
was signed several years ago with Yum! Brands, Taco
Bell’s parent company.
“The Boot the Braids campaign — in which students seek to
cut university contracts with Wendy’s — highlights that irony
and should serve as a cautionary reminder to Emil Brolick as he
certainly remembers well the Boot the Bell campaign, in which 25
schools and universities successfully removed Taco Bell from
their campuses while Brolick helmed the corporation,” he said.
“Mr. Emil Brolick, we are here to invite you to finish what you
Noelle Damico of the National Economic and Social Rights
Initiative declared at the rally.
Many faith leaders see the farm worker fight as a human-rights
issue, so they’re backing the effort and encouraging their
congregations to do the same.
“As Ohioans, consumers, and people of faith and conscience, we
call on Wendy’s to delay no longer in joining its fast-food
peers in the existing solution farmworkers themselves designed
to root out abuses in the fields,” said Rev. Tim Ahrens
of First Congregational Church of Columbus. “Now is the
time for Wendy's to participate in creating a twenty-first
century food industry where farm workers are treated as human
beings and their rights are not only protected, but valued.”
“The issue of the rights of farmworkers lies at the intersection
of many issues: workers’ rights, women’s rights, food justice,
economic and trade issues, on and on,” added Herrera. “It could
also be called farmworker rights. But many workers often talk
about this being, at its core, an issue about one’s humanity and
dignity. Something about “derechos humanos” seems to
speak to that. But beyond this, we're talking about justice,
dignity, freedom, liberty, respect. Human rights become the
umbrella for all this.”
Herrera also explained the fight as one of “food justice.”
Making consumers aware of what’s going on, he stated, is the key
to winning the battle.
“Those beautiful fruits and vegetables you see as you walk into
a grocery store just didn't get there by themselves,” he said.
“At the beginning of the food chain, a human hand picked them.
That hand historically has mostly been the hands of people of
color, poor people. And most likely, there is an injustice for
those that pick these products. So we have a responsibility as
consumers who buy and eat these products to know about these
injustices but also to use our power to change what is happening
in the field.”
But the hamburger chain has countered the campaign with an
explanation on its website. Wendy’s claims it is “being
targeted” by CIW and “its allies at other activist
is demanding an added fee on top of the price we pay our
suppliers. However, because of our high standards, we already
pay a premium to our Florida tomato suppliers,” the company
stated on its website. “We believe it’s inappropriate to demand
that one company pay another company’s employees. America
doesn’t work that way.”
The Dublin, Ohio-based fast-food chain contends that all
of the Florida tomatoes purchased by its supply chain
cooperative come from suppliers who already participate in the
Fair Food Program.
“Our responsibility to Wendy’s customers is to negotiate
directly with our suppliers – not third-party organizations—to
ensure our product specifications are met at a competitive
price,” the Wendy’s website stated. “If our suppliers incur
additional labor costs, we would expect them to pass them on to
us over time. Wendy’s supports ongoing efforts by Florida tomato
growers to improve working conditions for their workers.”
But Herrera contended that’s not how the Fair Food program is
set up to work. He stated it requires participating buyers to
pay a Fair Food Premium for purchases of Florida tomatoes. That
premium, similar to any fair trade premium, is not paid by the
buyer directly to the workers, but is in fact built into the
final price of tomatoes, on the invoice, paid to participating
“The buyers simply pay for their tomatoes as they always have,
only now with a small premium,” Herrera said. “The accounting
and distribution of the penny-per-pound funds are handled by the
growers, who pay workers in the form of a bonus on their regular
paycheck. Wendy’s would not make any payments to any employees
of other companies.”