The sweltering 100-degree heat in Orlando on Sunday afternoon did not dampen the loud, contagious energy of over 120 supporters and farmworkers who packed the sidewalk of a Wendy's restaurant on this city's busy Colonial Drive thoroughfare. Farmworkers and their families from Immokalee, just starting to return to Florida after a summer season in northern states, joyfully joined members of the Youth and Young Adult (YAYA) Network of the National Farmworker Ministry, the Iron Workers Union, I.S.L.A.M, Inc., QLatinx, the Florida Student Power Network, the First Unitarian Church of Orlando, among other community allies, to bring the Wendy’s Boycott to O-Town!
The summer protest followed the conclusion of a 30-day rolling Interfaith Fast for Farmworker Justice, during which over 40 faith leaders participated from seven religious traditions across Florida, the state with the most Wendy’s restaurants in the country. A season of fasting for human rights, initiated by 19 students at the Ohio State University in March and involving hundreds of supporters around the country, has ended with tremendous success as the tomato season rounds the corner.
Before the protest kicked off, Faiza Begani, representing YAYA, welcomed the boisterous crowd:
"Today we stand outside of Wendy's boycotting their continued lack of responsibility and responsiveness when it comes to the abuses of farmworkers.”
As participants led spirited chants and allies with bright yellow flyers educated passersby about the Wendy’s Boycott, a delegation gathered to deliver a letter to the local Wendy's manager urging the fast food holdout to join the Fair Food Program. And even though they received a no-longer-surprising rejection, the group returned to the picket line determined to speak even more strongly about their support for the campaign.
Cruz Salucio of the CIW led the closing reflection, addressing Wendy’s unconscionable decision to move their tomato purchases to Mexico, where reporting abuses has serious and life-threatening consequences (including the recent disappearance of 80 farmworkers in Chihuahua):
"Human rights cannot be ignored in any way. You cannot run away from a place where an important road for farmworkers' human rights is being created.”
Luis Quintana, a former farmworker and representative of the Iron Workers Union, spoke to the heat, humidity, lack of shade, and other conditions that make farm labor some of the most difficult work in the country — and the fact that the CIW’s unique model to uproot those abuses is the only solution to ending violence in Wendy’s produce supply chain!
Orlando’s principal newspaper, The Orlando Sentinel, reported on Sunday’s protest and Wendy’s failed response to the boycott:
"… For the past five years, [Wendy’s] refused to sign on to the Fair Food [Program],” said Ofelia Sanchez, a protester from the Youth and Young Adult Network of the National Farm Worker Ministry. “Instead of preventing abuses in the fields, they’ve chosen to take their business from Florida tomato farms to Mexican tomato farms.”
In those fields, Sanchez said farm workers face wage theft, sexual abuse and human trafficking threats.
Wendy’s disputed the groups’ claims in a statement and said the Coalition of Immokalee Workers “objects to the fact that we don’t pay fees to their organization.”
“We do not believe that joining the Fair Food Program is the only way to act responsibly, and we pride ourselves on our relationships with industry-leading suppliers who share our commitment to quality, integrity and ethics,” Wendy’s spokeswoman Heidi Schaurer said.
Supporters of the Fair Food Program say it works toward educating farmworkers on their rights and also has created a 24-hour hotline aimed at curbing abuses.
The Coalition of Immokalee Workers said it has educated about 35,000 workers in meetings, and reached thousands more with video and written materials.
“The conditions of farms where we now have the Fair Food Program … have changed tremendously,” said Nely Rodriguez, who works with the Coalition. “Abuses are being eliminated and workers are able to report abuses.”
Of course, Wendy’s hollow Code of Conduct is no match for the Fair Food Program’s gold standard of human rights protection, an internationally-lauded worker-driven solution to farmworker abuse in the fields.
Wendy's may be convinced that ignoring this national boycott, responding only with a weak and ineffective Code of Conduct and false insinuations that the CIW profits from the Fair Food Program, and continually turning a blind eye to the exploitation that remains in their supply chain will undermine our efforts to bring them to the table. But as over 120 farmworkers and their allies made clear in Orlando this weekend, "This action does not end today... Let's use all we can to push this boycott until one day we yell that we beat Wendy's."
Sunday’s protest is but a taste of the tremendous energy and support that is building up for the coming Campaign season as the Student/Farmworker Alliance Encuentro (September 7-10) and fall action plans roll out. Stay tuned for more soon!