The holiday came in handy as a national farmworkers-advocacy group used a Valentine’s theme to ask Wendy’s to join the Fair Food Program, with individual requests mailed to CEO Todd Penegor. Meanwhile, the OSU chapter of the Student/Farmworker Alliance hand-delivered its version of the request to University President Michael Drake, encouraging the school to drop its contract with Wendy’s until it joins the program.
Though the Fair Food Program has added 14 major corporations to its program, it hasn’t convinced Wendy’s to join. Unlike McDonald’s and Burger King, for example, which buy tomatoes from farms in Florida that are protected by the Fair Food Program’s code of conduct, Wendy’s gets its tomatoes from Mexico, where “human-rights conditions are worse across the board,” said Leonel Perez, a farmworker and member with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a workers’ rights organization.
The Fair Food Program, the CIW and the Alliance for Fair Food work together with purchasers — including McDonald’s and Burger King, as well as Wal-Mart and Chipotle — to ensure the protection of rights and wages for farmers and farmworkers in Immokalee, Florida, according to their websites.
“What we’re seeking is basic human rights for workers and that there will be respect in the workplace,” Perez said through translator Shelby Mack, the faith and food organizer with the Alliance for Fair Food.
Wendy’s tomatoes have been an issue the OSU Student/Farmworker Alliance has been battling since 2014, said Ben Wibking, a graduate student in astronomy and a member of the group. OSU’s contract with the Columbus-based fast-food chain pertains to the Wendy’s location inside the Wexner Medical Center. The past two contracts between OSU and Wendy’s state, under the “option to renew” section, that the school will work to find “a resolution of the concerns of the Student Farm Workers Alliance regarding the procurement of tomatoes for the operation of Tenant’s business at the Premise that is satisfactory to Landlord in its sole discretion.”
Wibking said the Student Farm Workers Alliance feels stiffed. That was the main goal of the reminders to Drake — to convince OSU to keep its promise. Perez echoed this message.
“It was a call for the administration to take a careful look at the corporations they are doing business with,” he said.
OSU spokesman Ben Johnson said the university is committed to working with the students and with Wendy’s, but he said the students declined an offer to meet directly with Wendy’s. In the meantime, OSU extended the lease for six months in November.
Wibking said the group declined to meet with Wendy’s because of a statement it posted on its website in 2013. In the statement, Wendy’s said it is being targeted by CIW and that the restaurant should only have to negotiate directly with the supplier, not a third-party organization like CIW.
Workers in Immokalee, Florida, are not paid on an hourly or weekly basis, but rather by output, Perez said. One of the calls from the Fair Food Program is that an extra penny per pound of tomatoes picked goes directly to the farmworkers. By adding this extra penny per pound, Perez said workers would notice a significant increase in their pay.
Without the Fair Food Program, if a farmworker in Immokalee, Florida, works a full day and harvests 160 32-pound baskets of tomatoes, the worker would be making roughly minimum wage, Perez said.
“Workers can’t earn a living and survive under these kind of conditions,” Perez said.
The additional-penny-per-pound system created by the Fair Food Program would require corporations to pay more to the growers who then distribute the extra money into the farmworkers’ paychecks. Depending on the amount of produce corporations order, farmworkers have seen a $20 to $60 raise in their paychecks per week, Perez said.
Even though these groups and organizations are working on behalf of farmworkers in Florida, Perez said this impacts everyone.
“If you eat, you are connected to farmworkers,” he said.