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Declarations of support for student fasters at OSU flood in as fast enters Day 4: National Farm Worker Ministry, T’ruah, Unitarian Universalist Service Committee send blistering statements to Wendy’s, OSU administration;

CIW welcomed back to Chicago on Return to Human Rights Tour! We begin with an update on the progress of the 19 courageous OSU student fasters, who today cross the halfway mark of their weeklong fast calling on the university to cut its contract with Wendy’s unless the fast food giant joins the Fair Food Program.

On Wednesday, the fasters woke up to a significant drop in temperatures, making life in their encampment outside OSU’s Bricker Hall still more trying and further testing their resolve.  But as if on cue, the fasters’ spirits were warmed by the surge of public support for their cause that poured forth yesterday from faith communities across the Fair Food Nation!  Joining the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), whose letter of March 15th called for its members to honor the student fast by joining in the National Day of Prayer and Fasting this Friday, major religious leaders and institutions are taking a stand with OSU’s student fasters.  On Wednesday, the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC), the National Farm Worker Ministry (NFWM), and T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights each published powerful public letters to Wendy’s CEO Todd Penegor, reenforcing their commitment to the Wendy’s Boycott and expressing their support for the students’ “inspiring act of solidarity.”

First, the Hon. Thomas Andrews, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, penned a powerful indictment of Wendy’s failure to honor “its stated commitment to social responsibility and human rights.”  Here is an excerpt from his letter (the full statement can be found at the UUSC’s website):

As the President and Chief Executive Officer at the Unitarian Universalist Service  Committee (UUSC), a non-sectarian human rights organization, I stand proudly with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) in calling on Wendy’s to join the Fair Food Program through their upcoming “Return to Human Rights Tour” and ongoing boycott. Signing onto the Fair Food Program is the only way for Wendy’s to follow through on its stated commitments to social responsibility and human rights.

As your Supplier Code of Conduct states: “People are our most valuable asset. Collectively, it is the respect and dignity we hold for each individual and value we place on trusted relationships that enables our mutual success. To that end, we take all human rights and labor practices issues seriously and expect the same from our Suppliers.” Such a statement rings hollow, given your company’s decision to abandon your tomato suppliers in Florida and to shift your tomato purchases to Mexico, where human rights violations are rampant, in order to avoid the pressure to join the Fair Food Program.

Moreover, the recent updates to the Wendy’s Supplier Code of Conduct do not go far enough. The vague promises of “third party reviews” of only certain produce suppliers fall short of what is required for Wendy’s to make good on its claims of “respect and dignity” for each individual or its commitment to human rights. Third party audits give workers little or no voice to raise their concerns, and fail to address the violations that happen outside the timeframe during which the audit is conducted. The shortcomings of your recent updates are made even more glaring given that the Fair Food Program has, time and time again, been recognized as the benchmark for the protection of human rights in corporate supply-chains. There is no need for vague promises of third party reviews, when an internationally renowned program already exists […]

Then, Phil Hamilton, Associate for Economic Justice with the UUSC, tied the organization’s call on Wendy’s to join the Fair Food Program to the courageous cause of the fasting students with this statement on behalf of the church:

The student fast taking place at OSU is an inspiring act of solidarity. Their refusal to turn a blind eye to the OSU administration’s decision to renew their lease with Wendy’s sends a powerful message that until Wendy’s joins the Fair Food Program, CIW and their allies will keep turning up the pressure. UUSC stands in solidarity with CIW, the students at OSU, and other allies in calling on Wendy’s to join the Fair Food Program.

Next up, Julie Taylor, President of the longtime CIW ally National Farm Worker Ministry, composed a letter to Mr. Penegor lifting up the Return to Human Rights Tour currently underway, the upcoming mobilization in Wendy’s hometown and, of course, the student allies engaged in fasting and reflection for a week at OSU:On behalf of the National Farm Workers Ministry (NFWM), a faith-based organization representing 27 member organizations, I am asking you to please meet with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) and sign the Fair Food Agreement this week.  My organization stands with all the major farm worker organizations in this country for farm worker self determination and the right to collectively bargain. For more than 45 years we have advocated for and stood with farm workers around the country as they worked for better wages, decent living conditions, freedom from harassment and to be treated as human beings…

… This past June, NFWM endorsed CIW’s boycott of Wendy’s. I am attaching a copy of that resolution. Since then we have been encouraging our supporters to also boycott Wendy’s and to present store managers with letters bearing that message. Later this week, we will join with supporters across the country in participating in the CIW’s Return to Human Rights Tour. A group of allies will begin a weeklong fast outside your corporate headquarters which will culminate in a vigil on March 24th and a march on March 26th. I would urge you to sign the Fair Food Agreement and make these events unnecessary.

She went on to affirm NFWM’s unwavering support for the OSU student fasters:

“We are moved by the student-led fast this week on the campus of OSU and look forward to joining them for the National Day of Prayer and Fasting.  We share their clarion call to Wendy’s CEO, Todd Penegor: “SIGN THE FAIR FOOD AGREEMENT!  Show us a real commitment to quality and guarantee justice for the farm workers in your supply chain.”

Finally, Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster added the voice of  T’ruah’s national network of nearly 2000 rabbis to the growing chorus of religious leaders urging Mr. Penegor to join the Fair Food Program.  Rabbi Rachel, who will be joining farmworkers from Immokalee and hundreds of other allies from across the Fair Food Nation at this weekend’s mobilization in Wendy’s hometown, also pledged to honor the students’ sacrifice by standing “in solidarity with faith communities across the country as we join together on Friday for a National Day of Prayer and Fasting.”  Here’s an excerpt from T’ruah’s letter:


… we have been deeply disturbed by Wendy’s continued failure to commit to the comprehensive human rights protections offered by the Fair Food Program. We believe that your conscious decision to move Wendy’s tomato purchases to Mexico to avoid the FFP, knowing that human rights abuses including violence and slavery are endemic in Mexico’s produce industry, is deeply immoral. We are equally disturbed that you continue to adapt your own code of conduct, rather than join your competitors in supporting a proven, internationally recognized model for protecting human rights in corporate supply chains. The first principle enshrined in the very first chapter of the Torah teaches equal and infinite respect. As a result, we believe that corporate social responsibility must begin with a commitment to the human rights of workers, rather than merely a desire to assuage the guilt of consumers or protect the reputation of a brand. By that measure, Wendy’s has failed 

… I write to you as I prepare to join the CIW in Columbus, where Ohio State University students and Fair Food allies have been fasting on your doorstep to bring attention to Wendy’s failure to join the Fair Food Program, which now covers more than 34,000 workers harvesting tomatoes, peppers and strawberries in seven states. We stand in solidarity with faith communities across the country as we join together on Friday for a National Day of Prayer and Fasting in support of CIW.

The Jewish holiday of Passover is nearly upon us, when we celebrate our people’s journey from slavery to redemption. When T’ruah’s rabbis tell the story of freedom, we include a tomato on our seder plates to symbolize the worker who picked it and their leadership in harvesting justice in our world. On behalf of T’ruah and Jewish communities everywhere, I urge Wendy’s to seize the moment to finally be part of the solution. If not now, when?

If not now, when?  The question resonates deeply not only for Wendy’s, but also for OSU’s President Drake, who has the power each day to bring the student fast outside his office to an end with the simple act of keeping his own promise, of honoring his pledge to cut Wendy’s campus lease until the company satisfies the students’ concerns over human rights conditions in its supply chain and joins the Fair Food Program.

Meanwhile, the Return to Human Rights Tour rolls into Chicago…

From the earliest days of the Campaign for Fair Food — beginning with the Taco Bell Boycott and, especially, during the McDonald’s Campaign — Chicago has been a second home to workers from Immokalee and their allies.  This year, Chicago was once again a central piece of the CIW’s largest action of the year and, once again, the farmworkers from Immokalee were welcomed home. One such figure in that long history who simply cannot go without mention is Olgha Sandman, a former board member of the National Farm Worker Ministry.  Ever since the earliest days of the Campaign for Fair Food, Olgha has been one of CIW’s most steadfast supporters, opening her home to organizing crews for weeks at a time, and bringing a calm, loving presence to every protest she has attended.  And it just so happened that on the eve of CIW’s arrival to Chicago, Olgha crossed the remarkable threshold of 90 years of age.

It was thus only fitting that the Return to Human Rights Tour’s stop in Chicago began Wednesday night with a celebration of Olgha — of her unflagging and lifelong commitment to the struggle for farmworker justice, as well as her birthday.

The tour crew took advantage of a bit of downtime Thursday morning to explore the rich history of the Windy City.  One of the highlights was a visit to the Haymarket Martyrs Memorial, a marker of arguably one of the most consequential days in the history of organized labor in the United States.  

For those who do not know the story:  In 1886, after factory workers in Chicago went on a peaceful strike following the murder of two fellow workers by police, a dynamite bomb of unknown origin was thrown into the midst of both protesters and police, resulting in the deaths of 13 people and the injury of many more.  Following the bombing, the court system, on slim evidence, sentenced seven striking workers to death.  The confrontation and ensuing trial gave birth to the international recognition of May Day, a day of memory and action in labor movements around the globe in the century that followed the incident in Chicago. CIW’s Lupe Gonzalo added her own reflections as the group contemplated the statue memorializing the Haymarket Martyrs and laid roses at its feet:

This story carries a lot of meaning, as it tells the story of workers who were sacrificed for demanding their rights to be respected as workers.  We learn that, sometimes, they try to stop you from leading a struggle to work with dignity, as human beings. 

But we are united in our spirit and strength in the struggle. We leave these roses as a representation of farmworkers, of low-wage workers, and others who remain among the poorest workers in the country. 

Freshly inspired by their visit to this intersection of US labor history and the broader struggle for fundamental human rights, the Immokalee crew and their Chicago allies turned their attention for the rest of the afternoon to preparing for the rush hour Wendy’s action.  And despite a steep and unexpected drop in temperatures, Chicago’s Fair Food allies would not be deterred from holding Wendy’s feet to the fire:

The tour crew was joined by representatives from a wide range of local organizations from across the city of Chicago, including  Jarochicanos, San Lucas United Church of Christ, Chicago Democratic Socialists of America, Interfaith Worker Justice, the Food Chain Workers Alliance and many others!

As the sun began to set, the protest concluded with a delegation to the local Wendy’s manager, and began to march down the bustling streets of Chicago to Pulaski Park…

… where CIW and allies were given a raucous welcome at a true convivio — dinner, reflections, music, and dancing.  We want to send a special thanks, as always, to Quinto Imperio, the musical group that has put on rousing concerts not only for several CIW actions, but for movements for social justice across the midwest.  

With that unforgettable send off, the tour crew packed up and continued their journey onward to Louisville, Cincinnati, and finally, Columbus, where they will be joined by hundreds of allies pouring in from across the country for the major weekend of action and unite with the OSU student fasters in just a few short days!