On March 2-14, 2019, farmworkers from Immokalee, Florida traveled across the country on the 4 for Fair Food Tour, stopping at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Ohio State University in Columbus, and the University of Florida in Gainesville. At these universities, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) alongside students and community members who urged their institutions to cut contracts with Wendy’s until they sign onto the Fair Food Program. Farmworkers, students, and community leaders are calling for a national boycott of Wendy’s, demanding human rights instead of cheap 4 for $4 deals.
The Fair Food Program was developed by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers as an innovative approach to workers’ rights because the tomato fields of Immokalee are a unique and particularly brutal workplace where traditional unions and other methods have not been successful. This approach follows the food up the supply chain, holding the people with the most power accountable– fast-food and supermarket chains, which are the largest buyers of tomatoes. Corporations that sign on are legally bound to only buy their tomatoes from Fair Food farms. The Program implements a wage increase through a “penny more per pound” premium, zero tolerance for forced labor, child labor, and sexual assault, worker-to-worker education sessions, complaint resolution mechanisms, health and safety committees, shade and water in the fields, and ongoing auditing of Fair Food farms. Fourteen of the largest buyers, including Walmart, Taco Bell, and McDonald’s, have signed onto the Fair Food Program after pressure from the Coalition and its allies. However, Wendy’s has refused.
In 2016, after several years of refusal by the fast-food giant, the CIW officially called for a national boycott of Wendy’s. The 4 for Fair Food Tour was this year’s continuation of the Boycott Wendy’s campaign. The focus shifted toward building solidarity between farmworkers and the corporation’s target demographic: students. As part of the CIW ally network, the Student/Farmworker Alliance (SFA) organizes students on campuses across the country to mobilize with farmworkers for justice. Students organize to “Boot the Braids” by kicking Wendy’s off campus until they sign onto the Fair Food Program.
I am a high school student from Montclair, New Jersey and I worked with Lexie Fisher, a Hunter College student in New York City to mobilize our communities to Ohio State University in Columbus, urging the institution to Boot the Braids. We organized a bus of students from Montclair High School, Hunter College, Columbia University, Barnard College, and Baruch College, as well as local community members.
On March 8, International Women’s Day, we marched in solidarity with over 100 farmworkers and their families, as well as hundreds of other students, both from Ohio and elsewhere such as Washington DC, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and more. The march to the campus Wendy’s and then to the office of University President Michael B. Drake was truly a display of people power and solidarity between communities fighting for a common cause of justice. We showed Ohio State and Wendy’s that we don’t want cheap fast food if it’s at the expense of justice and dignity for farmworkers.
As a result of the targeting of the four major state universities, the University of Michigan has Booted the Braids, and the a city resolution in Gainesville, FL has passed to urge the University of Florida to do the same! Campaigns continue at the University of North Carolina and Ohio State University and the momentum has not slowed. Just last week, on the April 18 National Day of Action, students on at least 20 college campuses dropped banners calling for their administrations and Wendy’s itself to support justice for farmworkers. This incredible movement is changing the relationships between the workers and the consumers in favor of a future of Fair Food where multinational corporations do not hold power over workers.