CIW to Nelson Peltz: “Trian has a tremendous influence over the decisions of Wendy’s — but they have forgotten to recognize the humanity of the workers. It’s time for them to do so by joining the Fair Food Program.”
On Monday evening, in the wake of Wendy’s long and frosty silence on whether or not they will join the Fair Food Program, nearly one hundred New York City community members marched from a Wendy’s franchise to the midtown Manhattan offices of Wendy’s Board Chairman Nelson Peltz, bringing the Fair Food Nation’s three-year-long public campaign all the way to the top of the corporate chain.
The message from farmworkers and consumers to Mr. Peltz reverberated loud and clear among the Park Avenue towers of glass and steel: “Nelson Peltz, it is your moral responsibility to use your significant influence within Wendy’s to finally bring the corporation to the table with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers!”
In the days leading up to the Monday action, energy and excitement had been building as CIW members crisscrossed New York City to connect with consumer allies, new and old. From a dinner and exchange with the low-wage women of color organizers of Enlace, to community radio interviews on stations like Labor Radio, to a gathering with members of the Presbyterian Church (USA), CIW’s advance organizing efforts reflected and deepened the profound commitment of an incredibly diverse range of consumer allies to ensuring the human rights of farmworkers and the success of Monday’s large and beautiful action.
At 5:30 on Monday, dozens began to gather in front of the Wendy’s located on E 45th St and 3rd Ave, picking up colorful protest art and beginning a lively picket in front of the store. The group perfectly reflected the diverse base of allies upon which the Campaign for Fair Food has built its success: worker organizations including Restaurant Opportunities Center United, Workers United, the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union, the Street Vendor Project, and Unite Here; religious forces from the Kairos Center, T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, and churches and synagogues from around New York like Kolot Chayeinu; community groups including Make the Road New York and Enlace; and longtime partners like WhyHunger and the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative — among many, many others.
As the energy built, CIW’s Lupe Gonzalo welcomed the excited crowd and invited Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster of T’ruah — a group of committed religious leaders who, in anticipation of the march, had flooded Peltz’s fax and email inbox with nearly 200 messages — to open the action with a prayer, followed by the sounding of the shofar (a ram’s horn trumpet used in Jewish ritual) for justice for farmworkers.
With that, the crowd of fellow workers, students, people of faith, NYC community members began the half-mile march to the 280 Park Avenue offices of Nelson Peltz at Trian Partners. As the march approached Trian’s offices, everyone stopped across the street to observe Trian employees peering down at them. In the solemn pause, Gerardo Reyes Chavez of the Coalition called out to marchers, “Trian has a tremendous influence over the decisions of Wendy’s — but they have forgotten to recognize the humanity of the workers. It’s time for them to do so by joining the Fair Food Program.”
Participants were called on to point to Mr. Peltz’s offices, “so they know that we are also looking at them, and holding them accountable to do justice.” All raised hands in an act of promise: that farmworkers and consumers — not just those present on Monday in New York, but thousands upon thousands of workers in the fields and allies across the nation — are holding Nelson Peltz accountable for the human rights of those who make Wendy’s profits possible through their hard labor. The group’s chants rose and echoed through the canyon of surrounding skyscrapers: “Peltz, escucha, estamos en la lucha!”
Marchers crossed the street, planted themselves directly in front of the entrance to Trian, and gathered close together to hear the Coalition share the history of the decades-long struggle for justice in the fields. CIW members recounted how a small group of farmworkers meeting in the basement of a church became a thousands-strong movement throughout the 1990s to call on growers to enforce human rights in the abuse-ridden industry. How after a decade of organizing with uneven results, the CIW went to the major food retailers, believing that those companies had the market power to bring about the changes workers were seeking. How after another decade of struggle, 14 corporations are now participating in the farmworker-driven Fair Food Program, along with 90% of the Florida tomato industry. That through the Program, basic rights for farmworkers — freedom from sexual harassment and modern day slavery, higher wages, access to water, shade, and bathrooms, the right to speak up without fear of retaliation, a real voice on the job — are being systemically implemented and rigorously enforced for the first time in U.S. history. How this groundbreaking Program is now expanding far beyond Florida tomatoes.
And finally, how the participation of more corporate buyers like Wendy’s is critical to the ongoing success and expansion of the Program.
This time, when the Fair Food Nation came knocking on Wendy’s door, the delegation of farmworkers, students and religious leaders was not even allowed into the lobby of the building. Only CIW’s Nely Rodriguez was briefly allowed to step inside, and then was summarily turned away. Security had been notified that the CIW would be there, and were instructed not only to block anyone from entering, but also not to accept any messages or letters from the group of protestors.
Exiting the imposing marble and glass structure, Nely’s message for the gathered crowd was not one of rejection or failure. Rather, it was one of fiery resilience and hope:
“We have a dream that our children will not have to endure the humiliation and abuse that we have endured — that they will be able to work with dignity and rights. So we are going to continue our struggle together. We will continue coming to Peltz’s offices. They haven’t deigned to come down, to see the work that farmworkers in the fields do, the work that is making them so rich.
We are here knocking on Wendy’s door, just like many other workers are knocking on the door of other corporations, because Wendy’s executives have an opportunity to open their hearts, to join with us, to be part of this Program that is changing the lives of thousands of farmworkers and the lives of our families. … But despite the call coming from so many people of faith, students, other workers, people who have supported us for so long, what do Wendy’s executives do? They hide! They are hiding and avoiding their responsibility to farmworkers. But we are going to keep struggling, keep moving forward, and we are not going to stop until Nelson Peltz comes to Immokalee, to where workers are working every day, and brings Wendy’s to the table!”
The action closed with one resounding promise from CIW and NYC residents alike to Wendy’s top leadership: “We’ll be back! We’ll be back! We’ll be back!”