Workers embark on Workers’ Voice Tour with wind in their sails thanks to National Council of Churches’ open letter to Wendy’s, Brolick, and Peltz!

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A sign outside the Faith United Church of Christ this week wishes CIW members well as they head out on the Workers’ Voice Tour, which starts this week in New York City. The sign echoes the strongly-worded support expressed in the National Council of Church’s open letter to Wendy’s CEO Emil Brolick and the Chairman of Wendy’s Board Nelson Peltz.

Workers in Immokalee woke up this morning with one thing on their mind: The long-awaited launch of the 2016 Workers’ Voice Tour!  Packing piles of protest art, dozens of duffel bags stuffed with rarely used cold-weather clothes, and enough supplies for a hundred people on the road for ten days, workers and their allies climbed aboard the bus and its satellite vans as the caravan for farm labor justice hit the road today at 10:00 am, destination: New York City.

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And thanks to the National Council of Churches, they are not heading out alone!  Far from it, in fact, as the NCC — representing “38 member denominations, comprised of more than 30 million Christians in over 100,000 local churches” — penned a powerfully worded open letter to Wendy’s CEO Emil Brolick, and the Chairman of Wendy’s Board of Directors, Nelson Peltz, and released the letter timed to coincide with the workers’ departure today from Immokalee.  

The letter, signed by NCC General Secretary Jim Winkler and the heads of seven of the NCC’s member denominations, begins by describing the NCC’s “longstanding relationship with the Coalition” and its commitment to “equality and dignity for workers” more broadly.  It concludes with a powerful rebuke of Wendy’s leadership for abandoning Florida growers after the implementation of the Fair Food Program and a call for Wendy’s to join the leading human rights program in the fields today:

… We are disappointed that Wendy’s continues to refuse to join and, in fact, has pulled its purchasing from Florida tomato growers participating in the Fair Food Program. The Fair Food Program’s collaborative and accountable approach which leverages the unique power of buyers, growers and workers has eradicated longstanding abuses and established a verifiable and sustainable path for human rights protections.

We ask you to align Wendy’s with fourteen other buyers including McDonald’s, Yum! Brands, Wal-Mart, leading growers in tomatoes, peppers and strawberries, and millions of consumers nationwide to advance and protect the human rights of farmworkers through the Fair Food Program.

But rather than continue to excerpt the letter, we will include it here in its entirety for your reading pleasure:

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March 1, 2016

Dear Emil Brolick, Nelson Peltz, and the Wendy’s Board of Directors,

We write as members of the executive committee of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA and as leaders of national faith bodies whose members care deeply about human rights, believing all people are created in God’s image, to ask Wendy’s to join the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ Fair Food Program without further delay.  

The National Council of Churches has a longstanding relationship with the Coalition. We endorsed the Taco Bell boycott and we called upon McDonald’s, Burger King, and Subway to join the Fair Food Program. We have seen with our own eyes the unprecedented achievements in human rights wrought by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ Fair Food Program.

Our 38 member denominations, comprised of more than 30 million Christians in over 100,000 local churches, are deeply committed, as followers of Christ, to equality and dignity for workers. We are familiar with the stories of those men and women who work in the fields and now labor under conditions of respect and safety. These changes have made it possible for workers to work without fear, for families to actually have time together, for growers to be as proud of their working conditions as their products, and for buyers to be able to assure their customers that the produce they purchase has been harvested fairly.

We are disappointed that Wendy’s continues to refuse to join and, in fact, has pulled its purchasing from Florida tomato growers participating in the Fair Food Program. The Fair Food Program’s collaborative and accountable approach which leverages the unique power of buyers, growers and workers has eradicated longstanding abuses and established a verifiable and sustainable path for human rights protections.

We ask you to align Wendy’s with fourteen other buyers including McDonald’s, Yum! Brands, Wal-Mart, leading growers in tomatoes, peppers and strawberries, and millions of consumers nationwide to advance and protect the human rights of farmworkers through the Fair Food Program.

Sincerely,

Jim Winkler, General Secretary and President of the National Council of Churches of Christ USA

The Rev. Dr. Sharon E. Watkins, Chair of the National Council of Churches of Christ and General Minister and President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Bishop W. Darin Moore, Presiding Prelate of the Western Episcopal District and the North Carolina Conference, African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church

Rev. Barbara Carter, Community of Christ

Rev. Karen Georgia-Thompson, United Church of Christ

The Rev. A. Roy Medley, General Secretary Emeritus, American Baptist Churches USA

Bishop Mary Ann Swenson, The United Methodist Church

Protodeacon Sergei Kapral, proxy for the Orthodox Church in America

The release of the NCC’s letter couldn’t be better timed, not just to coincide with the launch of the Workers’ Voice Tour, but as a harbinger of the major escalation of the CIW’s Wendy’s campaign that is to be announced tomorrow, Thursday, at 4 pm in New York.  The next phase of the Wendy’s campaign will be a crucial new challenge for the Fair Food movement and will call on the active support and participation of all the members of the Fair Food Nation — not just students, but people of faith, labor and community organizations, and everyday consumers across the country.  We look forward to working closely with the NCC in the months ahead as we ramp up the pressure on Wendy’s to leave the low road and join us on the road to a more modern, more humane agricultural industry.

We leave you today, as the Tour crew makes its way up I-95 for tomorrow’s big action in New York, with the words of the pastor at Faith United Church of Christ in Bradenton, the church whose sign is pictured at the top of this post, wishing the workers well on their journey.  The Rev. Brian Bagley-Bonner wrote a letter to the editor of the Bradenton Herald last week sharing a reflection on the Lenten message and his plans for the season this year.  His letter concludes:

… Tomatoes are a wonderful gift of God, but Jesus reminds me that how they come to us is very important. If Publix and Wendy’s are willing to put worker’s safety and health and financial viability at risk for an extra penny a pound, then I must tell them that “humans do not live by tomatoes alone.”

For Lent, I will be giving up Wendy’s (and I love the occasional Frosty) and Publix (the closest grocery store to my home and work) until they sign on to the Fair Food Program and agree to pay $.01 more a pound to ensure safety and justice. I wonder if Jesus would do the same?

You can read Rev. Bagley-Bonner’s letter in its entirety here.  And you can rest assured that Rev. Bagley will not be the only one giving up Wendy’s this Lenten season…

See you in New York City!

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