Farmworker Nely Rodriguez leads chants during the Ohio Fair Food march on Wendy’s Saturday (photo by Claudia Saenz)
This past Saturday, over 50 Ohioans braved the cold and rain on game day to rally outside the Wendy’s just south of the Ohio State campus. Ohio Fair Food, a group consisting of students, farmworkers, people of faith and organized labor, showed up demanding one thing: that Ohio-based Wendy’s join the Fair Food Program, a program which ensures a humane work environment and increased pay for Florida tomato pickers. Of the five largest fast food corporations in the country — McDonald’s, Subway, Burger King, Taco Bell and Wendy’s — Wendy’s is the only one not participating in the Fair Food Program. The reasons for Wendy’s to sign on are clear; the program provides a modest increase of 1 penny more per pound of tomatoes picked, a code of conduct which ensures basic rights such as water and shade for farmworkers, and gives farmworkers a voice on the job, including the right to file grievances without fear of retaliation. Wendy’s CEO Emil Brolick was the President of Taco Bell in 2005 when the chain became the first corporation to join the Fair Food Program. At the time Brolick stated, “We are willing to play a leadership role within our industry to be part of the solution. We hope others in the restaurant industry and supermarket retail trade will follow our leadership.” Eight years laterm under Brolick’s leadership, Wendy’s has refused to sign onto the FFP. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) has been organizing tomato pickers in the fields of Immokalee, FL for two decades. In an industry with a history of wage-theft and cases of modern day slavery, the Fair Food Program has truly brought a new day to the fields of Florida. Immokalee, FL produces over 90 percent of our nation’s fresh tomatoes during the fall/winter season, which is why it is crucial for corporations which buy large quantities of Florida tomatoes such as Wendy’s to join the Fair Food Program. Present at the protest was a large contingent of students from Ohio State and Dennison University. Ohio State student Cruz Bonlarron Martinez of the newly formed OSU chapter of Student-Farmworker Alliance (SFA) said, “It is essential that Ohio students take a stand and ask Ohio-based Wendy’s to support Florida farmworkers who work tirelessly to provide the food we eat.” Columbus was fortunate to be visited by CIW member Nely Rodriguez and Claudia Saenz, a national organizer for the SFA. Columbus was the last stop in a whirlwind Midwest tour in which Nely shared her story with people of faith, students and community emphasizing the importance of Wendy’s joining the Fair Food Program and why the support of Ohioans across the state is essential. Nely and her 4-year-old son lea chants in Spanish and English with a crowd that was simply undeterred by the weather. Ohio Fair Food meets every 3rd Wednesday of the month. To learn more, please “Like” Ohio Fair Food on Facebook, and contact to find out ways to get involved!