An Open Letter to President Fenves from UT Students

UT students to President Fenves: "...we are organized and we plan to fight until Wendy's agrees to respect the dignity of the farmworkers its business depends on."

Fueling the rapidly growing national student boycott against Wendy's, University of Texas at Austin Student/Farmworker Alliance penned an open letter to their newly inaugurated President Gregory Fenves, requesting he meet student demands for Fair Food at UT and cut the University’s contracts with the two enormously lucrative Wendy’s locations on campus. 

Check out UT SFA's pressing message to President Fenves below:

Dear President Fenves,

We’d like to congratulate you on your presidential inauguration on Thursday, September 17th.

Since the beginning of your term, you have done a lot to establish working relationships with your constituents here at UT. From willingly reducing your salary by 25% ; to calling for the removal of the Jefferson Davis memorial, one of the several remaining vestiges of slavery on our campus, from our main mall;  to having breakfast tacos with UT Facilities Services staff on the morning of your inauguration,  your commitment to addressing the disparate needs and concerns of faculty, staff, and the student body is clear.

As stated in your decision regarding our condemnable statuary,  we must strive to create substantial change in the University. By demonstrating your willingness to work with your constituents and to act upon what you believe is right, you have also made apparent your commitment to this claim. However, administration and the student body alike, both as beneficiaries and benefactors of the University, have an obligation to extend this commitment to the society in which our University resides.  It is due to this obligation, President Fenves, that we write to you today.

UT’s chapter of the nation-wide Student/Farmworker Alliance would like to formally invite you to stand in solidarity with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers  and cut our University’s contract with the two Wendy’s locations that now reside on our campus.
Although slavery as a formal institution was abolished in 1865, farmworkers to this day are subject to the stinging legacy it has left in the modern U.S. agricultural system.  Due to increasing corporate demand for cheap labor, wage theft,  physical abuse,  sexual harassment,  and, in extreme situations, forced labor situations,  are pressing issues for U.S. farmworkers today, most of whom are migrant workers from Latin America. 

However, a new dawn has broken in the U.S. agricultural system. In March 2005, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), an organization led by Florida tomato pickers, with the support of the Student/Farmworker Alliance (SFA),  made history: after four years of the SFA’s participation in its landmark Boot the Bell Campaign, Yum! Brands—a restaurant corporation that owns Taco Bell, KFC, Long John Silver’s, and Pizza Hut—finally agreed to hold the farms that they work with accountable for the conditions in which their farmworkers pick our fruit. 

In 2011, after 90% of Florida tomato growers agreed to implement these changes, the CIW formalized their workplace demands in their groundbreaking Fair Food Program (FFP). 

The FFP requires that farms provide workers with access to shade and water, the right to bathroom and lunch breaks, and the right to leave the workplace if one feels that their health is in danger. The third-party Fair Food Standards Council,  which audits farms that participate in the FFP, monitors the Program in order to ensure farm and corporation compliance. It also implements mandatory worker-to-worker rights education sessions and requires that corporations pay a premium of 1.5¢ per pound of tomatoes picked so as to ensure higher wages.  These are standards for working conditions that are unprecedented in the history of U.S. agriculture.

Since the CIW’s first victory in 2005, 14 different corporations have agreed to work with the CIW—including major fast-food organizations Burger King, McDonald’s, Subway, KFC, we well as major food retailers Wal-Mart and Whole Foods.  As a result, between 2011 and 2014, corporations have paid farmworkers a collective $15 million in wages; the Fair Food Standards Council has interviewed 7,500 workers regarding their working conditions; CIW representatives have educated 22,000 workers regarding their labor rights; and the Fair Food Standards Council has addressed 600 worker complaints.  These numbers are ever-increasing as the Program continues and expands beyond its birthplace in Southwest Florida, once dubbed “ground zero for modern-day slavery,”  to Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, and New Jersey. 

However, despite the CIW’s successes, a handful of corporations continue to refuse to participate in the FFP. Prominent among these fair food holdouts is Wendy’s,  the last of the five major fast food giants to agree to join the Program. Consequently, in January 2014, after a year of CIW pressure with little response, the Student/Farmworker Alliance announced its Boot the Braids campaign,  in which students demand that their universities cut campus contracts with Wendy’s until it agrees to participate in the FFP. In March 2015, the SFA escalated its campaign by announcing the launch of its national student boycott of Wendy’s. 

UT students bear a special place in the CIW’s triumphant history. In 2001, shortly after the SFA’s inception, UT was one of the first schools to bring the landmark Boot the Bell campaign onto its campus.  After four years of creative and powerful student action in solidarity with the Florida farmworkers, however, University administration failed to address the SFA’s demands.

We are writing, President Fenves, to notify you that UT’s renewed branch of the Student/Farmworker Alliance is once again bringing the fight for fair food to our 40 acres. We hope that you, unlike your predecessors, make space in your working relationships for us, because we are organized and we plan to fight until Wendy's agrees to respect the dignity of the farmworkers its business depends on.

UT SFA students plan on delivering the letter, in person, to President Fenves next week, as a followup to the Boot the Braids Bake Sale / Rally & March happening Sept. 30 in conjunction with SFA’s “Schooling Wendy’s” National Week of Action, with over 20 actions taking place nationwide to demand that Wendy’s join the Fair Food Program. Stay tuned for more news from across the #FairFoodNation as we continue #SchoolingWendys this week! 

Wendy's, you listening?