ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Students from around the nation took the stage before a crowd of more than a thousand at the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ Concert for Fair Food last Saturday to declare a nationwide student boycott of Wendy’s. The concert, featuring Grammy-winning artists Ozomatli and La Santa Cecilia, was the latest development in a two-year campaign calling on Wendy’s to help eliminate farmworker poverty and abuse through the coalition’s Fair Food Program (FFP).
The student-led boycott will be launched at Ohio State University and will snowball over the coming months as dozens more universities adopt the boycott. The action comes as part of the larger student-led campaign, “Boot the Braids,” which is aimed at ending Wendy’s contractual relationships with universities around the country until the company joins the FFP.
“All of Wendy’s fast food competitors have committed to buy only from farms where farmworkers are guaranteed basic human rights, and yet Wendy’s has so far rejected that responsibility,” said Amanda Ferguson, a member of the Student/Farmworker Alliance at the Ohio State University. “Now we’re declaring a nationwide student boycott and we will continue to escalate our efforts until Wendy’s joins the Fair Food Program.”
The Concert for Fair Food last Saturday drew some one thousand supporters. The sponsoring Coalition of Immokalee Workers sees the event as amplifying the voices of those calling for Wendy’s and Publix Supermarkets to improve working conditions for the people who harvest their produce.
At the fair Marisol Marquez, a member of Raices en Tampa, described some of the harsh conditions faced by the workers.
“Just having a bathroom where you can go like during a break when you need to is non-existent,” she said. “And I just found out that a couple of weeks ago, basically a group of women came forward and said their crew leader who also happens to be Latino, I think he might have been Mexicano, they all reported that this person had been abusing them sexually and physically.”
In addition, farmworkers face harsh conditions such as prolonged exposure to pesticides, the sun, and heat. They face these hazards while performing hard physical labor, and they often have inadequate restroom facilities or housing. Shifts can last up to 12 hours per day.
According to a 2008 United States Department of Agriculture report on the CIW website, farmworkers are among the most economically disadvantaged labor groups in the United States. The poverty rate for farmworkers is more than twice the rate for other waged and salaried workers.
In some cases farmworkers have been held against their will and forced to work for little or no pay.
Some of these abuses have been addressed by the CIW when it got several of Wendy’s competitors, including Burger King, Chipotle, McDonald’s, and Subway to sign onto the Fair Food Program Campaign. Publix Supermarkets’ competitors, among them Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, have already signed onto the Fair Food Program. in which they agree to have clean water and toilets in the fields. They agreed, in the case of tomato workers, to set aside a penny or more per basket for workers’ wages and to allow workers to refuse to enter a field right after it has been sprayed with pesticides.
“I think that more than anything the CIW wants workers’ rights to exist for the undocumented,” Marquez said.
The heightening of the farmworkers struggle comes at a time when many other sectors of the working class are fighting for better conditions and higher wages including fast food workers, adjunct professors and home healthcare workers.
While some states are attacking workers by enacting harmful right-to-work-for less laws that weaken unions, farmworkers are not allowed to participate in collective bargaining at all.
Many unions attended the concert to show solidarity with the farmworkers. Among them were the West Central Floriday AFL-CIO, AFSCME, the Electrical Workers. Unite Here, and the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers.
The only other boycott in the history of the 15-year Campaign for Fair Food was declared by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) against Taco Bell in 2002. Then-president Emil Brolick witnessed Taco Bell signing the first Fair Food Agreement with CIW in 2005, declaring in a press release that “any solution must be industry-wide.” Now, as president and CEO of Wendy’s, Emil Brolick has refused even to talk with CIW, much less commit Wendy’s to the Fair Food Program.
At its height, students at over 300 universities, colleges, and high schools were actively supporting the Taco Bell Boycott. Students at 25 educational institutions successfully organized to ‘Boot the Bell,’ ending or preventing Taco Bell contracts with their schools.
“With ‘Boot the Braids’ and the Wendy’s student boycott, we are reminding Emil Brolick of the power students have in the Campaign for Fair Food,” Ferguson continued. “The Concert for Fair Food was not only a celebration of the transformation taking root in the agriculture industry as a result of the Fair Food Program, but also a call to action going out to thousands of students across the country to boycott Wendy’s until they, too, are part of the solution.”