Last week, in the midst of the Northeast Behind the Braids tour, Wendy’s released their most direct response to the CIW’s Campaign for Fair Food to date. As outlined in CIW's response, that answer – rather than honestly address the letters, protests and calls of thousands of farmworkers and their allies – sidestepped, told half truths and outright lied (make sure to read the CIW’s point-by-point rebuttal if you haven’t already!).
Wendy’s statement was not the difficult but high road they claimed; rather, it served to expose the fear Wendy’s harbors of the growing tide of support for the farmworker-led, national boycott. And as farmworkers traveled along the East Coast on a tour of education and action this past week, hundreds of students, youth and people of conscious saw Wendy’s fear over and over in their cowering response both in their public statement and in the streets.
With hundreds committing to join the boycott in last week’s tour of New York, Rhode Island and Massachusetts, exposing the deceit “Behind the Braids,” we’re excited to bring you this report from the road!
New York City
The Northeast Behind the Braids tour started off with a bang in New York City!
The Lower Eastside Girls Club of New York, whose support of the CIW’s organizing stretches back to the Taco Bell boycott days, organized a lively march from their community center through Tompkins Square Park and the streets of Manhattan’s Lower East Side all the way to the Wendy’s in Union Square, packed with pedestrians on a busy and sunny Saturday afternoon.
The girls had prepared for the CIW’s visit not just with handmade boycott banners and signs, but also with stylish braids and freckles, similar to the fast food chain’s iconic redhead. Even in the buzzing streets of New York City, the march made a big splash with the indomitable energy of the girls’ boycott chants and drums. Hundreds of New Yorkers passing by received flyers and word of the national Wendy’s Boycott.
In spite of the infectious spirit of the city’s young girls, the delegation to the Wendy’s manager was rejected, and both CIW members and the young New York residents were promptly instructed to leave the premises.
Meanwhile, just an hour upstate, a burgeoning group of allies in the Hudson Valley area joined together for a multifaith action at a Wendy’s in Nanuet, New York. The Multifaith Community at Stony Point Center and members of local Presbyterian Churches, which are part of the Hudson River Presbytery, hosted Lupe Gonzalo of the CIW for a presentation about the Boycott, and the group then caravanned up the road, ready to take action!
At the protest, hundreds of passersby stopped to listen as members of Muslim, Jewish, and Christian community members proclaimed that one uniting, central theme of their respective traditions is a call for worker justice. Yet, even in the face of this beautiful and respectful coalition, we were threatened with arrest and not allowed to speak when a delegation approached the Wendy’s manager.
Undeterred by Wendy’s stunning disrespect for farmworkers, faith leaders and even schoolgirls, the Wendy’s Boycott movement continued to spread over the course of the following days, with thousands in Upstate New York catching coverage of the protest on Channel 12 and hearing about Fair Food at White Plains Presbyterian Church involving members of the Presbytery, the AFL-CIO, and WESPAC Foundation and presentations with Manhattanville students and high schoolers at the School of the Holy Child.
On Monday, we headed to Montclair, New Jersey to meet up with the brand-new Montclair Fair Food Alliance, a vibrant new Fair Food group uniting students from Montclair High School, Montclair State University and Passaic Community College, congregants from local synagogue B’nai Keshet, and other community leaders. The group held a protest at Wendy’s on the busy Bloomfield Ave, a thoroughfare for New Jerseyans heading home at the end of the workday.
During the small but spirited action, a group of workers and allies entered the store to try to speak with a manager — and, much to their surprise, were directed to three regional executives, who were seated inside the Bloomfield, New Jersey restaurant for a quiet meeting. Breaking with the pattern of the two previous actions, two of the regional directors listened to Lupe’s powerful testimony and counter argument after counter argument to Wendy’s recent excuses for refusing to join the Fair Food Program. After listening without interruption, both to CIW and to local students about the movement is growing in Montclair, the regional managers respectfully received the group’s letter.
Back to Manhattan…
The CIW’s stop in New York City concluded with a powerful vigil on Wednesday night in front of the offices of Wendy’s Board Chair Nelson Peltz. In this hallowed stretch of sidewalk, where the Wendy’s Boycott launched earlier this year, religious leaders from all around the New York area gathered to “set the table of justice” — starting with an altar in the middle of the financial district.
After prayer and opening from Rev. Betty Tom of Mt. Vernon Presbyterian Church and Rev. Noelle Damico of the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative, dozens of faith leaders gathered shared songs, held candles, and wrote down their own personal hopes for Mr. Peltz and Wendy’s, which were to be delivered at the end of the vigil. Members of Jornaleros Unidos carried produce and pennies to the table to represent the incredible gains of the Fair Food Program. Meanwhile, New York City Fair Food supporters listened as farmworker leaders and religious leaders responded directly to the statement freshly released by Wendy’s just that morning.
As all waited in silence outside, the messages the vigil participants had written down for the company’s leadership were then carried inside by the CIW and allies. A security guard did not allow farmworkers to speak directly with Mr. Peltz, but agreed to attempt delivery of the messages.
Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster, Director of Programs at T’ruah, closed the vigil addressing Mr. Peltz: “The gates of repentance are always open. As we stand here again calling upon Wendy’s to do the right thing, for Nelson Peltz to use his leadership, and to hear the words of the farmworkers who are leading this movement for change in the fields of Immokalee. It is not too late. You can always do the right thing. It’s time for Wendy’s to do the right thing and join the Fair Food Program.”
Lupe closed the reflective space with a direct message for Mr. Peltz and the leaders of Wendy's: “Today we are in front of the offices of Nelson Peltz so that he sends this message to Wendy’s corporation and stops deceiving consumers. We want Wendy’s to show the truth to all of their consumers, because we don’t just want justice for us as workers, but also justice for consumers so Wendy’s stops pulling the wool over your eyes. It’s necessary for us to continue fighting, to continue revealing the truth – because while we may not have the advertising dollars of Wendy’s, what we do have is our truth.”
Soon after the vigil, we drove to Providence, where rich interchanges with students at Barrington Christian Academy and Brown University through the Brown Student Labor Alliance, attendees of the Quaker Meeting , parishioners at local churches and members of Central Falls’ Fuerza Laboral and the American Friends Service Committee, set the table for a protest in strong rain and a harsh cold to make sure that Rhode Islanders know about the national Wendy’s Boycott. Soaked but spirited, the protest sent a delegation to explain our presence to the manager, but workers and students were instead not allowed to talk and again told they would be arrested if they remained on Wendy’s property.
Lupe Gonzalo of the CIW reflected, “The crude rejection we experienced at the door today is not out of the ordinary: Wendy’s rejection is something we experience on a daily basis as farmworkers. But recently, Wendy’s has been making that rejection more public and obvious, with managers using threats and aggression to keep us from any kind of dialogue – which just shows Wendy’s lack of respect and their fear of what we are doing.”
Cameron Johnson of the Brown Student Labor Alliance expounded: “There’s nothing they can do to make us afraid. We’re here under the rain, we’re building power, making noise, spreading a message, and that is beautiful. Don’t let anything dampen your motivation – this is a beautiful moment to me.”
Before leaving for Boston, we participated in Direct Action for Rights and Equality’s 30th anniversary, celebrating DARE’s incredible history of unified grassroots organizing and the longtime connection with farmworker justice through the work of the CIW.
The Northeast tour ended in a historical seat of the CIW’s campaign: Boston, MA, where consumer allies anchored a successful campaign to bring Ahold USA, parent company to Quincy-based Stop & Shop, to join the Fair Food Program. Welcomed with warm hospitality for presentations and meetings in communities including Hillel B’nai Torah, Nehar Shalom, First Baptist Church of Jamaica Plain, and Northeastern University, the final action of the tour, over 60 strong, represented the aforementioned groups and the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, New England Jewish Labor Committee, Jewish Organizing Institute and Network, Boston Workmen’s Circle, Northeastern Real Food Challenge, Northeastern Progressive Student Alliance, MassCOSH, SEIU, Haley House, Clark Real Food Challenge, Harvard Student Labor Action Movement, Maine-based Mano en Mano, and local small farmers.
The lively picket sent representatives to share with the manager our purpose, but the group was harshly rebuffed. Hannah Hafter of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee reported on the group’s experience and made the connection with conditions for farmworkers in Wendy’s supply chain: “The level of disrespect that we received five minutes ago when we went inside was quite shocking…. but the disrespect in terms of how we were treated is nothing in comparison to the kind of disrespect that farmworkers are facing every day in the fields.” Itzel Vasquez-Rodriguez of the Harvard Student Labor Action Movement drew the connection between Harvard dining workers’ ongoing strike and the struggle of the CIW: “We’re here today because all workers deserve respect, but obviously corporations [and institutions] like Harvard and Wendy’s think otherwise.”
That's a wrap for the Northeast Tour!
As protest after protest was met with slammed doors and refusal to dialogue, it’s clear that Wendy’s feels deeply threatened by the growth of the boycott. Even as Wendy’s spews public relations drivel, thousands of consumers are going “Behind the Braids” to reveal Wendy’s falsehoods and bring them to be part of a reality of justice in the fields. Strong student and community coalitions across the Northeast are mobilizing – and they are pledging to continue doing so. With three of the six Behind the Braids tours still to come, Wendy’s, your lies won’t be able to withstand this fearless movement!