Over 150 student activists marched from the White House to a NoMa Wendy’s restaurant on Nov. 16, where D.C. Fair Food, the regional chapter of the Student Farmworker Alliance, presented a petition to the manager. Members of the Georgetown Solidarity Committee and MEChA joined other student labor groups in calling Wendy’s to join the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’s Fair Food Program.
CIW, a worker-based human rights organization from Immokalee, Florida, has been coordinating with the SFA since 2000 to mitigate worker abuse and slavery in Florida’s tomato industry. “Before farmworkers began to organize, cases of wage theft, verbal abuse, physical violence, and sexual harassment were commonplace,” said Joe Parker (SFS ‘10), co-coordinator on SFA.
The Fair Food Program requires that participating corporations purchase their tomatoes exclusively from suppliers that meet humane labor standards and pay fair wages. So far, eleven major corporations, including McDonald’s, Burger King, and Subway, have chosen to participate in the initiative. Wendy’s is the only large food chain that has not enrolled in the program.
The event was the campaign’s largest effort in D.C. to date.
“The protest was very successful. After picketing in front of the store for 20 minutes, a delegation of four students delivered our letter to the assistant manager, who received it appreciatively and promised to pass it along to company management,” wrote Alexandros Taliadoros (SFS ‘14), senior member of GSC, in an email to the Voice.
Wendy’s says they do not feel that it’s appropriate to compensate the employees of other companies. “We already pay premium to our tomato suppliers in Florida, and we expect them to compensate their employees. The harvesters work directly for them, not us,” wrote Bob Bertini, Wendy’s news media representative in an email to the Voice.
In the past, GSC has been involved in a number of FFP marches targeting Taco Bell, Chipotle, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and Publix.
“Solidarity has always worked closely with the CIW and SFA to improve the livelihood of Southern-Florida farmworkers. Our relationship this past year has only become stronger,” Taliadoros wrote. Members have also worked closely with Immokalee workers.
Members of the Student Farmworker Alliance believe that since its conception, the Fair Food Program has had a positive effect on the Immokalee community. “Their quality of life has increased. There are stories of women that are so excited that they can actually give their children breakfast in the morning. It’s a great, comprehensive program,” said Sarah Vázquez (COL ’13), SFA Steering Committee member and D.C. Fair Food Community Organizer. So far, over 30,000 farmworkers have been given higher wages.
GSC plans to cooperate with other solidarity groups and continue supporting the campaign until Wendy’s agrees to join the Fair Food Program and invites the larger Georgetown community to participate. “Georgetown’s Jesuit values talk about caring for the whole community … and farmworkers are a part of our larger national community, so this campaign works beautifully with Georgetown,” Vázquez said.