Media round-up! Wendy’s Boycott making news from California to New Jersey…

B’nai Keshet Synagogue Hebrew School student Elliot Morley, 12, with his parents Alan Morley and Carol Schlitt, and interested customer Deron Braxton of Bloomfield, NJ delivers letter to local Wendy’s manager on Saturday, April 28, 2018. PHOTO BY ADAM ANIK OF MONTCLAIR LOCAL

Cal State East Bay ethnic studies professor: “Wendy’s doesn’t really care how tomatoes get picked and how much people are getting paid for the tomato, they just care that their tomato producers are selling them the Wendy’s appropriate tomato for a specific price, and that price is typically hella cheap…”  

In a few short weeks, farmworker women and men from Immokalee will make the 1,000-mile trek to Wendy’s Headquarters in Dublin, OH, to confront the fast-food chain’s top decision-makers, in person, at the annual shareholder meeting.  If, indeed, what’s past is prologue, the meeting in Dublin will almost surely fall far short of the true dialogue on human rights that Florida farmworkers have sought with Wendy’s executives for several years now.  But CIW members and their Fair Food allies will be in the same room as Wendy’s Board Chair Nelson Peltz and other company leaders next month, and their voices will be heard on the company’s unconscionable decision to turn its back on the Fair Food Program and shift its tomato purchases to Mexico, where violence, corruption, and impunity are the norm, not the exception.

In the lead up to next month’s meeting, the Fair Food Nation has been hard at work keeping up the pressure on Wendy’s.  From mobilizing to join farmworkers on June 5 at the major protest outside of the shareholder meeting in Ohio, to sending hundreds of letters to Wendy’s CEO Todd Penegor and Board Chair Nelson Peltz, consumer support for the national Wendy’s Boycott continues to grow.

Today, we want to bring you a quick round-up of three recent media hits, stories reflecting that growing momentum from coast to coast!  Let’s jump right in…

First up, one of the country’s most widely-read Jewish newspapers, The Forward, published a biting article by #tomatorabbi Daniel Kirzane of The Temple, Congregation B’nai Jehudah in Overland Park, Kansas and member of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights.

In his piece, titled “Why Wendy’s Is The Worst Place For A Shabbat Dinner,” Rabbi Kirzane makes the case that the recently-released documentary “Wendy’s Shabbat,” featuring a group of Jewish seniors in California who celebrate their weekly Shabbat at a local Wendy’s, fails to mention that a large portion of the country’s Jewish community relates to the fast-food chain in a different kind of way — avoiding Wendy’s altogether in support of farmworkers’ rights. 

Here are a few excerpts from the article, which lifts up the unprecedented success of the Fair Food Program in putting a halt to society’s most violent abuses, from sexual assault to slavery, in the U.S. agricultural industry:

Why Wendy’s Is The Worst Place For A Shabbat Dinner

By Rabbi Daniel Kirzane
May 8, 2018

[…]“Wendy’s Shabbat” is heartwarming, with a message about both do-it-yourself Judaism and the often-overlooked needs of American Jewish seniors. But it omits one critical piece of information: Wendy’s is currently facing a nationwide boycott for its failure to protect human rights in its supply chain. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), with support from T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, has for years urged Wendy’s to join the Fair Food Program, a unique partnership among agricultural producers, farm workers, 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 farm workers a voice in the decisions that affect their lives, and to eliminate the longstanding abuses that have plagued agriculture for generations, from wage theft to sexual assault to forced labor.

Dubbed “one of the great human rights success stories of our day” in the Washington Post, the Fair Food Program has won widespread recognition for its unique effectiveness from a broad spectrum of human rights observers, from the United Nations to the White House. But Wendy’s refuses to join the 14 participating food retailers, including McDonald’s and Wal-Mart, in agreeing to protect workers in its supply chain. Instead, it’s begun buying many of its tomatoes from Mexico, where conditions for agricultural workers are even worse. […]

[…] The CIW has turned Florida’s tomato fields from “ground zero” for modern-day slavery into a leading model of human rights protections in the agricultural industry. They won farm workers’ first wage increase in decades, implemented a full-throated program to root out wage theft and exploitation, and instituted a zero-tolerance sexual harassment policy that has drawn the admiration of leaders of the #MeToo movement. As one of T’ruah’s so-called “#tomatorabbis,” I have been inspired by the CIW’s extraordinary success in implementing worker-driven initiatives to protect their own human rights and those of low-wage workers in adjacent industries. […]

[…] So it seem incongruous to me to celebrate Shabbat in a place that neglects its most vulnerable workers. The fourth commandment, which instructs us to observe Shabbat, is meant to remind us that everyone is entitled to basic physical and spiritual needs, calling on us to “remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt and the Eternal your God freed you from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Eternal your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day” (Deut. 5:15).

Meanwhile, over in Montclair, New Jersey, the township’s weekly newspaper picked up the story of an exciting (and incredibly sweet!) delegation to the local Wendy’s, led by 12-year-old Elliott Morley, who collected 65 signatures from his peers at the Hebrew School of Bnai Keshet Synagogue in support of the national Wendy’s Boycott. The Fair Food youngster chose to take up the fight for Fair Food as the community service element of his Bar Mitzvah:


Bnai Keshet Hebrew School Student Protests at Wendy’s

May 5, 2018

Students from the Hebrew School of Bnai Keshet in Montclair are protesting the alleged treatment of workers in the fields who pick the tomatoes used in Wendy’s products.

On April 28, 12-year-old Elliott Morley presented the manager of Wendy’s in Bloomfield a letter signed by children in the Hebrew School stating their intention to boycott Wendy’s until the corporation signs on to the Fair Food Program of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. Sixty-five of the Hebrew School’s children in grades three through six signed the letter.

According to Elliot’s mother Carol Schlitt, Wendy’s is the only fast-food corporation not participating in the Fair Food Program.

“Copies of these letters will also be sent to Nelson Peltz, who is the chair of the board of Wendy’s and who is Jewish,” Schlitt said. “Wendy’s is the only fast food company that has refused to sign on to this program and which decided to buy tomatoes from Mexico rather than pay decent wages and provide better working conditions to workers in Florida.”

In addition to raising the profile of the boycott at home, Elliot and his classmates at school sent 63 letters by post yesterday to Wendy’s Headquarters in Dublin, OH, as part of the Alliance for Fair Food’s national letter-writing campaign this month. If you haven’t done so already, there is still time to send in your letter ahead of the shareholder meeting!

Finally, we’ll finish up the round-up with a thought-provoking piece that ran last week in California State University East Bay’s The Pioneer. The article draws out Wendy’s motives for abandoning its longtime suppliers in Florida to partner with the abuse-ridden Mexican tomato industry. Here are a few of the highlights:

Tomato farm workers against Wendy’s fast food chain

Erika Martinez
May 10, 2018

[…] In 2011, the Fair Food Program (FFP) was established by the CIW, which protects farm workers from exploitation and ensures a contract between the farmworkers, tomato growers and retail buyers. Under the FFP, retail buyers agree to pay a small fare for every tomato picked that goes on to the farmworker’s paycheck.

Calling out Wendy’s on joining the FFP is not the first time the CIW has done this. In the past, they have called out other fast food chain restaurants like Taco Bell, Burger King, Subway, McDonald’s and Chipotle Mexican Grill. Each case was not an easy process and took protest after protest in order to convince these companies to agree to the Fair Food Program contract.

Cal State East Bay business professor, Timothy Wat, commented, “I believe exploiting or underpaying workers is not only cruel and inhumane, it’s also poor business. It presumes the myopic short-sighted focus on cutting costs, at all costs, inexorably ends up handicapping the performance of an organization’s most valuable asset – its human resources. Whether this is really the case in this particular situation between Wendy’s and the CIW remains to be seen.”

All the pressure is on Wendy’s now. It is one of the major food chains still refusing to join the FFP, and has even stopped buying tomatoes in Florida ever since this implementation.

“Multinational business has long pursued higher quality and lower cost of inputs as a reason for relocating parts of the value chain overseas. It’s the reason our smartphones are manufactured in China, our sneakers are made in Indonesia, and our customer service calls are routed to India, Ireland and a host of other places,” Wat told The Pioneer.

Wendy’s claims to have relocated in purchasing tomatoes due to the better quality of tomatoes and not because of the implementation of joining the Fair Food Program. Unions like the CIW and programs like the FFP, however, are not implemented for many farmworkers in Mexico and have less protection in the workplace leaving the real cause for this decision from Wendy’s a controversy.

“Wendy’s doesn’t really care how tomatoes get picked and how much people are getting paid for the tomato, they just care that their tomato producers are selling them the Wendy’s appropriate tomato for a specific price, and that price is typically hella cheap,” stated ethnic studies professor, Alberto Valdivia.

This situation has given Wendy’s a bad reputation, and any decision they make now will affect the future of their company over time.

And that’s a wrap for now!  Stay tuned in the week ahead for exciting updates on the Wendy’s Boycott front as the Fair Food Nation prepares for the June 5 showdown at the annual shareholder meeting in Ohio…