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2016 Workers' Voice Tour: "Boycott Wendy's!"

For years, United Methodists have supported the efforts of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and their allies to persuade major fast food and retail chains to join the Fair Food Program and pay one penny more per pound for tomatoes, which goes directly to farmworkers. The retailers who join the program agree to require a human rights-based Code of Conduct to be implemented on farms. McDonald's, Burger King, Taco Bell, and Wal-Mart have already joined the program.

Despite three years of advocacy and student boycotts, Wendy’s remains the last major fast food chain to refuse to join the program. This is why the call to Boycott Wendy's is the centerpiece of the 2016 National Workers’ Voice Tour, which began with a kickoff march earlier this month (March 3) in NYC to the Midtown Manhattan offices of Wendy's Board Chairman and major shareholder, Nelson Peltz.

The campaign continued on to Wendy's headquarters in Columbus, OH, then to universities with active student boycotts in Kentucky and Florida, before concluding in Peltz's vacation town of Palm Beach, FL.

United Methodist Women, who were also represented at the march, provides some good background on the Fair Food Program and the new campaign. As UMW's article explains, "Among fast food chains, only Wendy's does not participate in the Fair Food Program; in fact, Wendy's has intentionally moved tomato purchases away from Florida and its FFP-participating farms. Wendy's recently released a supplier Code of Conduct that excludes workers and their voices from the enforcement of worker protections in the fields."

Along with other people of faith, I had the privilege of attending the kickoff march and the dinner and gathering that followed in Union Theological Seminary's James Chapel. In many ways, the event was a vibrant example of Ministry with the Poor. 

At the rally that preceded the march, CIW farmworkers, who had traveled for 24 hours by bus from Immokalee, Florida to New York, testified about the exploitation they faced picking tomatoes for shamefully small compensation on farms in the American south.

The Fair Food Program's request for one cent more per pound of tomatoes, which Wendy's continues to resist even after its fast-food peers have joined the program, is so modest! To think that workers have to bus around the country just to gain one cent per pound is hard to fathom. But it is the leadership and persistence of the workers, of those on the margins, that has already won so many sustainable victories for farmworkers with corporations like Wal-Mart and McDonald's.

The rally embodied the Ministry With commitment to inclusive, boundary-crossing worship. The testimonies of the farmworkers were given physical incarnation in a popular theatre piece that represented the exploitation faced by the workers as "Mr. Exploitation," a giant living tomato walking down the aisle to marry the red-haired and pig-tailed Wendy of Wendy's fame. 

At the moment in the wedding "liturgy" that asked if anyone had any objections to this most unholy union, farmworkers stood up. "We object!" they shouted. They had had a good relationship with Wendy before Mr. Exploitation had intruded. They wanted to have a good relationship with her again. 

The call was clear -- Boycott Wendy's! Until the fast food chain agrees to join the Fair Food program, CIW and its allies are calling for a nation-wide boycott of Wendy's and its exploitation of workers.

A giant Boycott Wendy's banner was unfurled. And the march was on.

We marched through a tourist-filled area of New York that I have rarely traversed during a protest: past Madison Square Garden, St. Patrick's Cathedral, and NBC Studios. Tourists gaped at our tomato signs and accepted Boycott flyers and information about the campaign.

Along the way, we chanted and sung gritos to the tune of songs like "Ain't No Mountain High Enough." The refrain we always came back to was the day's demand: "Boycott Wendy's!"

 

A video posted by Nic Laccetti (@njlaccetti) onMar 3, 2016 at 2:14pm PST

 

The group swelled to several hundred marchers, including a host of Jewish temple groups and T'ruah, the Rabbinic call for human rights. I learned later that this was because Nelson Peltz, the shareholder and Wendy's board chairman, is Jewish himself. Local Jewish leaders are calling on Peltz to respect their shared Jewish values of justice and fair wages. Based on the long tradition of Jewish social teaching, Peltz should encourage Wendy's to join the Fair Food Program.

After walking down Park Avenue, past the luxury boutiques and high fashion shops, we ended up at Nelson Peltz's offices. We had some rousing speeches, some more songs and chants, and a picket line. But what struck me most at this point in the march was the sense of accompaniment between farmworkers and their New York allies. We were led in a traditional Immokalee chant, led by the workers themselves -- first the folks from Florida were called upon, and they answered, "¡Presente!" Then the allies from New York: "¡Presente!" we responded.

Following the march, we all headed up to Union Theological Seminary to gather in James Chapel for dinner. A band played Mexican folk tunes up on the stage. There was good food, conversation, and dancing. Hosted by the Kairos Center for Religions, Rights and Social Justice, the gathering felt more like a family dinner than a networking event. The kind of ministry engaged in by the CIW and Kairos is grassroots-led and relationship-based.

As I left for the evening, I thought about the Fair Food Program and the CIW's aims in this campaign. One cent per pound is an incremental change, but it makes a huge difference in the lives of farmworkers. Importantly, campaigns like this one also create the relationships necessary for building a movement of the poor, a national campaign and network that will succeed in forging sustainable change in an exploitative economic system once and for all.

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Nicholas Laccetti

Nicholas Laccetti is the Ministry with the Poor communicator, based out of the offices of the General Board for Global Ministries in New York City. He received his M.Div. from Union Theological Seminary in 2015, where he studied the intersections between popular religion, theology, and social change.

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Read and comment on a range of personal reflections and perspectives about poverty and Ministry with the Poor. Our goal is to attract diverse voices and points of view from United Methodists and friends, including people and communities living in conditions of poverty, other experts, religious leaders, community organizers, advocates, policy makers, volunteers, and all engaged in Ministry with the Poor.

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