From New York to Florida, media coverage of Workers’ Voice Tour builds pressure on Wendy’s, billionaire chairman Nelson Peltz, to join Fair Food Program…
Even as the chants for farmworker justice echoed off the bougainvillea-covered walls of Worth Ave in Palm Beach a few short weeks ago, the workers’ call for a national boycott of the fast-food giant Wendy’s was being heard in towns and cities across the country, thanks to an unprecedented level of media coverage at both the local and national levels. The flood of coverage was topped off with last week’s explosive bit of investigative journalism from Harper’s Magazine, an article entitled “Trump’s Tomatoes.” The Harper’s piece went beyond simply reporting that Wendy’s had shifted its tomato purchases away from Florida to Mexico, and instead confirmed Wendy’s connections to a Mexican agribusiness giant with a particularly unsavory reputation, a company by the name of Kaliroy that was embroiled in a massive, 2013 slavery prosecution involving hundreds of workers, including many children.
We’ve done our best to collect the highlights of the media coverage of the ten-day Workers’ Voice Tour and assembled them all here below in a massive media round-up.
New York City
On the eve of March 3rd’s massive march through the streets of Manhattan, news of Immokalee farmworkers’ national boycott of Wendy’s spread like wildfire, the headline popping up in national and international media outlets ranging from World News to Telesur and La Jornada as well as Democracy Now! and Take Part — and of course, right down here in Florida, where the Campaign for Fair Food was born.
Here is an excerpt from coverage from the Fort Myers News-Press, which has long followed the CIW’s decades of working for justice:
AP, March 4, 2016
The Coalition of Immokalee Workers has announced it is starting a boycott against the Wendy’s fast-food chain.
The nonprofit farmworker group said Thursday it hopes the boycott will cause the Ohio-based chain to pay an extra penny per pound for its tomatoes to supplement farmworkers’ wages.
It’s only the second time the 23-year-old group has called for a boycott. The last one ended in 2005, when Taco Bell became the first fast-food company to sign onto what’s now known as the Fair Food Campaign.
Since then, the coalition has had unprecedented success improving farmworkers’ lives and labor conditions. Its Fair Food Program now protects the rights of tens of thousands of workers on east coast farms spanning Florida to New Jersey.
The program improves workplace standards while increasing workers’ pay 1 cent more for every pound of tomatoes harvested. The bonus comes from corporate buyers who agree to the program’s premium — not the growers, who simply pass it on. In addition to the raise, the program creates a cooperative complaint resolution system, health and safety programs, and worker-to-worker education.
Wal-Mart, the world’s major fast-food companies (minus Wendy’s), food service corporations and three national grocery chains are paying the bonus. read more
Right off the bat, the powerful New York action and attendant flurry of media pressed Wendy’s into attempting to explain their decision to pull purchases from the Florida tomato industry… an explanation that their spokesperson, Bob Bertini, simply could not provide.
Wendy’s side-stepping responses and mechanical talking points, captured by the industry’s premiere magazine, Nation’s Restaurant News, only further fueled support from conscious consumers for the brand-new national boycott:
… But Bob Bertini, a Wendy’s spokesman, said that the company currently isn’t buying tomatoes from Florida for various reasons, including seasonality. When it did buy tomatoes from Florida, the company only worked with suppliers that were participants in the Fair Food Program.
He said that the chain only works with suppliers that sign the company’s code of conduct — which requires that suppliers comply with local, state and federal laws and follow required industry standards.
Bertini also said the penny surcharge was inappropriate. “CIW has demanded that we pay an additional fee directly to the tomato harvesters that work for the suppliers with whom we contract,” he said. “These individuals are not Wendy’s employees, we have not thought it appropriate to pay another company’s workers — just as we do not pay factory workers, truck drivers or maintenance personnel that work for our other suppliers.”
The coalition says that, by not joining the program, “Wendy’s is deriving a very real cost advantage over its competitors, while continuing to provide a market for less reputable growers.”
The group also blasted the code of conduct as “the very worst of the traditional corporate approach to social responsibility driven by public relations concerns rather than the verifiable protection of human rights.” read more
And the list goes on! Make sure to check out more great coverage from New York:
“Florida farmworkers call for Wendy’s boycott over fair-food fight” by Sue Sturgis, Take Part, March 4
“Coalition of Immokalee Workers Launches National Boycott of Wendy’s” Democracy Now! March 4
“Jornaleros agrícolas de Florida impulsan boicot contra Wendy’s” by David Brooks La Jornada, March 3
“Consumers, Workers Call for Wendy’s National Boycott – Here’s Why” by Christon Jervil, Latin Post, March 4
“Campaign Against Farm Worker Abuse Seeks to Boycott Wendy’s” TeleSUR, March 3
“Wendy’s Feels the Heat: Protestors Set to NYC Streets to Demand Justice for Farmworkers” by Meagan Dellavilla, Food Tank, March 2
- “Coalition of Immokalee Workers Declare National Boycott of Wendy’s” by Rick Herron, Sojourners, March 7
Next up, in Wendy’s hometown of Columbus, Ohio, press coverage of the march was a family affair — state and local news picked up on the building pressure on their closest corporate neighbor. Cameras from local news stations and reporters trailed the march of over 500 consumers and farmworkers from start to finish.
Here is an excellent piece from NBC4 News:
COLUMBUS (WCMH/AP) — Hundreds of protesters took to the streets Sunday against Wendy’s in their treatment of farmworkers.
The protesters, led by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, marched from Goodale Park to Tuttle Park. The coalition is calling for a nation boycott, claiming that Wendy’s shifted its purchases to Mexico, favored public relations over human rights and profited from farmworker poverty.
According to the Associated Press, the farmworkers coalition has used demonstrations and sometimes consumer boycotts against companies to pressure them into joining its “Fair Food Program.” Participating companies, which include the largest fast-food companies in the nation like McDonalds, Burger King, Subway and Taco Bell, pay an extra penny-per-pound to their tomato growers to supplement field worker wages in seven states. read more
Check out even more coverage from the Tour’s visit to Wendy’s hometown, from the Ohio Associated Press to the Columbus Dispatch:
- “Farmworker Coalition Starts Wendy’s Boycott Over Tomato Dispute” Ohio Associated Press // WOSU, March 4
“Calls Grow for Wendy’s to Join Fair Food Program as Coalition Plans Major Protest of Fast-Food Giant” Democracy Now!, February 26
“Local faith groups to join Ohio Fair Food” Columbus Dispatch, March 4
Finally, the Workers’ Voice Tour wrapped up last Saturday with the biggest media wave of all in Palm Beach, part-time home to “billionaire investor Nelson Peltz,” as he was deemed over and over again in news outlets from coast to coast.
In addition to the excellent pieces from CBS Channel 12 (above) and the Sun Sentinel, which we highlighted in our first quick media round-up after the tour, The Examiner — with a national readership of 20 million — ran an in-depth article on the 500+ person march over the bridge and into the stately sabal palms of the exclusive island of Palm Beach:
March 14, 2016 // by Tina Burgess
Ethel Kennedy led a protest in a wheelchair near the home of Wendy’s billionaire chairman Nelson Peltz. Saturday’s peaceful march involved hundreds of protesters, many of them farmworkers, who are struggling to make a living while the fast food chain is making a profit.
As My Palm Beach Post reports on March 13, the hundreds of people walking through West Palm Beach and Palm Beach included farmworkers, religious leaders, students, and consumers. The march was organized by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers who teamed up with the Alliance for Fair Food and the Student/Farmworker Alliance.
Ethel Kennedy led the protest in a wheelchair while people were holding signs, wearing T-shirts, and chanted. One participant, who was on the back of a lead truck, used a megaphone to guide the group of protesters. “Boycott … “ he shouted, and others answered, “Wendy’s!”
In contrast to other fast food chains like McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Subway or Burger King, Wendy’s is resisting in signing onto the Fair Food Program that promotes workers’ rights in the fields:
“The Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ (CIW) Fair Food Program is a unique partnership among farmers, farmworkers, and retail food companies that ensures humane wages and working conditions for the workers who pick fruits and vegetables on participating farms. It harnesses the power of consumer demand to give farmworkers a voice in the decisions that affect their lives, and to eliminate the longstanding abuses that have plagued agriculture for generations.”
“The Program has been called ‘the best workplace-monitoring program’ in the US in the New York Times, and ‘one of the great human rights success stories of our day’ in the Washington Post, and has won widespread recognition for its unique effectiveness from a broad spectrum of human rights observers, from the United Nations to the White House.”
The Fair Food Program has been publicly endorsed by former President Jimmy Carter, President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State John Kerry, and is currently active in North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, and New Jersey. However, Wendy’s does not feel that it has any responsibility in regard to farmworkers.
Wendy’s billionaire chairman Nelson Peltz, is a 73-year-old investor with a net worth of $1.35 billion. According to Forbes, he is the 423rd richest American. Triarc, one of Peltz’s companies, bought Wendy’s in 2008 for $2.3 billion — and he became chairman. read more
Father Matt Malone, S.J., who accompanied Mrs. Kennedy throughout the march, published his own first-person reflection in America Magazine, one of the country’s principal Catholic magazines. Here are just a few highlights from the beautifully-composed piece:
Last Saturday, hundreds of protesters briefly disturbed the conscience of the island paradise of Palm Beach, Fla. Led by Mrs. Ethel Kennedy, widow of the late U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy, the peaceful cavalcade wended its way under a brilliant blue sky through a 2.5-mile route, across the Royal Park Bridge and past the trendy shops and coiffured lawns of the 1 percent. […]
[…] While the boycott has brought needed attention to the plight of workers in Immokalee, a farming town 100 miles from Palm Beach, Mrs. Kennedy and the coalition’s other leaders thought that it would be even more effective to take the fight to the front door, literally, of the chain’s chairman. Nelson Peltz, the billionaire head of Wendy’s, has one of his homes in Palm Beach. “It’s an opportunity for Wendy’s to just join and do the right thing,” said Gerardo Reyes Chavez, one of the day’s protesters. “Instead of that, they punish their own suppliers by not purchasing from them.”
But as much as the protest was meant to pressure Wendy’s and its chairman, the marchers also sought to raise awareness among the folks who were out for their Saturday morning shop. “The people in this town saw for the first time the faces of the people who pick their food,” said Santiago Perez, another of the organizers. “Their reality is tied to our reality, and they can’t continue to ignore us.” If that sounds familiar, it is because it’s a lot like what Pope Francis has been telling us: A more just economic system begins by seeing the person, the one who toils to produce what we consume. When we fail to see the person, our conscience is blind. read more
In addition to widespread national coverage of the march, the local Palm Beach Post — which had been closely following the CIW’s lawsuit with Palm Beach for the right to march — delivered a final culminating article on the high-spirited, colorful afternoon:
Peaceful Wendy’s protesters march from West Palm to Palm Beach
Hundreds of people marched down the sidewalk of Okeechobee Boulevard — some two-by-two, some three-by-three — holding protest signs, donning T-shirts and chanting.
“Boycott …” one of the organizers of the protest shouted though a megaphone from the back of the lead truck.
“… Wendy’s!” answered back the protesters as loud as their voices would let them.
The Coalition of Immokalee Workers teamed up with the Alliance for Fair Food and the Student/Farmworker Alliance for a 10-day peaceful protest tour that ended with a march from Howard Park in West Palm Beach over the Royal Park Bridge and through Palm Beach.
The protesters were asking for Wendy’s to join other major fast food chains like McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Subway and Burger King in signing onto the Fair Food Program that promotes workers’ rights in the fields. They were also asking for an extra cent per pound of tomatoes for the pickers.
Ethel Kennedy, 87, widow of former senator Robert F. Kennedy, led the charge onto the island, where Wendy’s board chairman Nelson Peltz has a home.
One Immokalee farm worker, Leonel Perez, said walking the streets of Palm Beach was symbolic, and he hopes Peltz took notice.
“He has the power to bring Wendy’s to the (bargaining) table,” Perez said through a translator. read more
Once again, here is the full list of press from last Saturday’s massive march in Palm Beach:
- “Tomato Farmers Wage Speech Fight Against Palm Beach” by Jacob Gershman, Wall Street Journal, March 3
- “Rotten tomatoes? Farmworkers sue Palm Beach over protest ban” by Terry Spencer, Times Union, March 3
- “The Latest: Farmworkers announce boycott against Wendy’s” Washington Post (AP), March 3
- “Cerabino: Planning to protest? Don’t annoy more than 2 Palm Beachers” by Frank Cerabino, My Palm Beach Post, March 5
- “Farmworkers protest by home of Wendy’s billionaire chairman” AP, Sacramento Bee, March 13
- “Hundreds of farmworkers gather on Palm Beach to protest Wendy’s” WPBF News, March 13
And that’s a wrap for the media round-up from the historic 10-day Workers’ Voice Tour! While the tour may be over, it’s only the beginning for the national Wendy’s boycott — so stay tuned…