A Columbus, Ohio, rally calls for a boycott of the fast food chain until it joins the Fair Food Program.
Protesters, including UUSC President William F. Schulz (center with green sign), demonstrate outside a Wendy's restaurant in downtown Columbus, Ohio. (© 2016 Nancy Pierce/UUA)
A group of about 55 people, many of them Unitarian Universalists in Columbus, Ohio, for General Assembly, gathered in the rain this afternoon to demand that the Wendy’s restaurant chain join the Fair Food Program or be boycotted.
The Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ Fair Food Program is a partnership among farmers, farmworkers, and retail food companies that ensures humane wages and working conditions for workers who pick fruits and vegetables. Wendy’s is the last major fast food chain in the nation refusing to join the program, which would guarantee an extra penny-per-pound as well as guaranteeing fair and humane working conditions for Florida farmworkers. McDonald’s, Burger King, Taco Bell, Subway, and Chipotle have already signed on.
Holding colorful anti-Wendy’s signs, demonstrators gathered on a busy Columbus street corner at lunchtime to make the case for a boycott, earning occasional honks of support from passing cars. Unfortunately, Florida farmworkers who were scheduled to attend the rally were on a flight that was cancelled. But the event went on because, as Ruben Castilla Herrera of the Central Ohio Workers Center told the crowd, “The time to start is right now!”
Herrera explained that the national Wendy’s boycott has been going on for about three years, but that the dialogue with Wendy’s actually started about eleven years ago. He said that farmworkers want justice in the fields, but they also just want Wendy’s representatives to “come to the table” and speak with them, which they’ve so far refused to do.
The Rev. Bill Schulz, president and CEO of the UU Service Committee, speaking at the rally, chastised the fast-food chain, saying, “Wendy’s slogan shouldn’t be ‘quality is our recipe,’ it ought to be ‘exploitation is our recipe.’”
The rally was sponsored by the UUSC, the UUA, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, Central Ohio Worker Center, Alliance for Fait Food, the Food Justice Ministry, Fair Food Ohio, Justice and Witness Ministries of the United Church of Christ, and the Justice Action Ministry of the First UU Church of Columbus.
The Rev. Allison Farnum, minister of the UU Church of Fort Myers, Florida, read a statement from UUA President Peter Morales, in which he said: “Instead of serving customers ethically harvested tomatoes, Wendy’s has actually shifted its tomato supplier to a Mexican company that was prosecuted for inhumane working conditions just a few years ago.”
“As people of faith and conscience committed to seeking justice for all,” Morales wrote, “we remain in solidarity with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. Unitarian Universalists are demonstrating today to show Wendy’s and companies like it that we care deeply about the working conditions of its suppliers. And we will not spend our money on food made by a company that perpetuates human rights abuses in the name of cost-savings. We will boycott Wendy’s until it makes the right decision—to support ethical business practices and acknowledge the inherent dignity of all workers."
Following the speeches, the crowd moved across the street to the sidewalk in front of a Wendy’s restaurant, where they picketed, loudly chanting “Up, up with the fair food nation, down, down with the exploitation!” and “One penny more!” They also handed out information to passersby and created a long line of pennies on the sidewalk, illustrating how little is being asked of Wendy’s financially.
Learn more about the Wendy’s boycott at boycott-wendys.org.
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Sonja L. Cohen is deputy managing editor of UU World and a lifelong Unitarian Universalist.
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