BREAKING: Students descend on OSU President Drake’s office, launch sit-in on eve of International Women’s Day

Rachel Birri, OSU Junior: “Today, as Ohio State students, we continue to be ashamed of how this University acts.  But we are so proud of ourselves and of our communities in the way we are able to fight for justice, in the way we will not give up, in the way we will make sure that farmworker voices are heard here at Ohio State, here in the hometown of Wendy’s…”

PLUS: Join in today’s call-in to President Michael Drake’s office!

Yesterday afternoon, just ahead of today’s major International Women’s Day march to the heart of Ohio State University’s campus, a group of 25 OSU students, faculty, staff and community members marched to the doorstep of President Michael Drake’s office and launched a sit-in, demanding that the university’s contract with Wendy’s come to an end.  The peaceful, student-led action represented a major escalation in the students’ efforts to boot Wendy’s off campus, building on six years of the campus-based Boot the Braids campaign squarely in Wendy’s corporate backyard of Columbus, Ohio.

Upon arriving at the President office inside Bricker Hall, students with the Ohio State University Student/Farmworker Alliance chapter took turns reading aloud a powerful letter, addressed to President Drake, expressing the urgency of their demand to end OSU’s business relations with Wendy’s.  Here is the letter in its entirety:

Dear President Drake,

We are here today to demand that you cut OSU’s contract with Wendy’s. Now is the time. Ohio State has been stalling for six years. Six years of students, staff, faculty, alumni and community members calling on you to demonstrate Ohio State’s commitment to human rights through one simple action: refusing to do business with Wendy’s until they join the Fair Food Program. You and the Ohio State administration have continually evaded our call to action, prioritizing the public image of Wendy’s over your own social responsibility. We are here today, on the eve of International Women’s Day, to invite you to follow through on your word that you “actively support fair treatment of workers” by cutting the contract. Now is the time.

The most recent renewal of OSU’s contract with Wendy’s came with fanfare around Wendy’s updated supplier code of conduct, which the Ohio State administration actively helped design. As has been demonstrated under thorough review from labor law experts, including our own professor emeritus in the Moritz College of Law, Jim Brudney, Wendy’s code of conduct falls far short of the Fair Food Program. While the Fair Food Program is a mandatory code, Wendy’s code of conduct is entirely voluntary. While the Fair Food Program depends upon active and unthreatened participation of workers, Wendy’s code of conduct does not even address the participation of the workers they claim to protect.

Last month the University of Michigan, our biggest rival, bravely refused to let Wendy’s back on campus until Wendy’s joins the Fair Food Program. When the Coalition of Immokalee Workers visits the University of Michigan on Saturday, they will be celebrated for joining the right side of history. They will be celebrated for upholding respect for the dignity and freedom of workers. In contrast, your inaction, your stalling, and your continued willingness to do business with a company that is in the national spotlight for its deplorable human rights record, is more shameful than ever.

As the wave of public pressure against Wendy’s leads more and more institutions to cut their ties with Wendy’s shameful and evasive maneuvering, now is the time to distance ourselves by finally endorsing the internationally acclaimed and proven worker protection strategy of the Fair Food Program. Now is the time to cut the contract with Wendy’s.

Tomorrow, hundreds of people will march through Columbus in honor of International Women’s Day to support the women leaders of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers who are fighting for a world without sexual violence, who are here to face Wendy’s directly to demand their support, and who ultimately will come to your door demanding to know whether you will continue to be complicit in Wendy’s gross human rights violations, or whether you will finally choose to stand with students, women, and farmworkers. Rather than being a day of shame, tomorrow can still be a day of celebration. This is a peaceful sit-in. We refuse to leave until the contract with Wendy’s is cut. Now is the time to rise to the occasion. Now is the time to join University of Michigan on the right side of history. Now is the time to choose celebration over condemnation. Now is the time to cut the contract with Wendy’s.


Members and Allies of The Ohio State Student Farmworker Alliance

Although President Drake remained behind closed doors in his office while the students’ read the letter, he did make a brief appearance during the sit-in, flanked by campus police.  Ignoring students’ questions and demands for a meeting, President Drake emerged from his office and exited the building as quickly as possible, with their songs and chants echoing at his back.  By 5:30, as the building was shutting down, a larger contingent of police entered the room and threatened students with arrest if they refused to leave.

But even after the sit-in participants were physically forced out of the administration building by both campus security and police into the chilly winter air, their spirits remained high.  Singing as they exited the building, students held an impromptu reflection on their experience, solidifying their determination to keep the campaign going.

As the evening light faded, the students were joined outside of Bricker Hall by the dozens of farmworkers and their families who had traveled to Ohio for the 4 for Fair Food Tour.

After rounds of song and chants, the crowd listened to a series of moving speakers, ranging from CIW’s Silvia Sabanilla and Gerardo Reyes Chavez to the Rev. Noelle Damico, Amanda Hayes, Intern Minister at the First Unitarian Universalist Church in Columbus, and Rachel Birri, an OSU Junior who not only had taken part in the day’s sit-in, but was one of 19 fasters during the 2017 fast by OSU students, alumni and community leaders.

The vigil ended with a burst of energy, as students and farmworkers alike took turns leading chants, warming up their vocal cords for the major march through Columbus taking place today.

The Faith Community Stands with Farmworkers, Students…

Meanwhile, as students from North Carolina to Ohio have been turning up the heat on campus administrators to uphold the stated values of their respective universities, top leaders of national faith institutions representing millions of people across the country dispatched a powerful epistle to the CEO of Wendy’s.  The letter calls the company to account for its deliberate evasion of the Fair Food Program and pledges the religious communities’ “power, voices, and faith leaders” to “support the moral stand of university students across the nation, who have mobilized to cut Wendy’s contracts with their universities.”  

Signed by leaders from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the United Church of Christ, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the Unitarian Universalist Association, the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, the Alliance of Baptists, the National Council of Churches, T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, National Council of Catholic Women and many others, the letter put it plainly, “Human dignity, health, wholeness, and lives are at stake.”  

In signing onto the declaration, Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, President of the Unitarian Universalist Association, beautifully summarized the shared sentiment of the faith leaders:

“As a person of faith and conscience, I believe we must advocate for the safety and fair treatment of all people, including farmworkers. As a Unitarian Universalist, I believe we must demand policies that uphold the inherent worth and dignity of every person. We must be in solidarity with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers because human rights should be a core tenet of labor and food culture, and we can’t ignore companies who choose to put profit over people.”With a proven model at hand, it is simply unconscionable that Wendy’s has done all in its power to avoid participation.”

Here is the full list of signatories:

The Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson II
Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

The Rev. Dr. John C. Dorhauer
General Minister and President, The United Church of Christ

The Rev. Teresa Hord Owens
General Minister & President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the U.S. and Canada

Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray
President, Unitarian Universalist Association

Rabbi Elyse Wechterman
Executive Director, Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association

Rabbi Jill Jacobs
Executive Director, T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call to Human Rights

Jim Winkler
President and General Secretary, National Council of Churches

Julie Taylor
Executive Director, National Farm Worker Ministry

Sister Simone Campbell, SSS
Executive Director, NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice

Andrea Cecilli
Executive Director, National Council of Catholic Women

Nikki Toyama-Szeto
Executive Director, Evangelicals for Social Action/The Sider Center

Nora Reyes and Jeanette Smith
Board Co-Chairs, Interfaith Worker Justice

Bridget Cabrera
Executive Director, Methodist Federation for Social Action

Patrick Carolan
Executive Director, Franciscan Action Network

Bro. Mark Schroeder
O.F.M., Franciscans for Justice

Rev. Dr. Ken Brooker Langston
Director, Disciples Justice Action Network

Paula Dempsey
Director of Partnership Relations, Alliance of Baptists

Rev. LeDayne McLeese Polaski
Executive Director, Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America

Brian McLaren
Board Member of Convergence and Wild Goose Festival

Rev. Dr. Sharon Stanley-Rea
Director, Disciples Refugee & Immigration Ministries

Sister Karen Bernhardt
Leadership Team, Sisters of the Humility of Mary

Teri Hadro
President, Sisters of the Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Lawrence E. Couch
Director, National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd

Despite the drama of a jam-packed Day 5, this rising tide of momentum in the Wendy’s Boycott is only a taste of what is to come today.  In just a few short hours, over 800 farmworkers and allies will be gathering in Goodale Park in Columbus for the International Women’s Day March through Columbus into the heart of the Ohio State University campus.  If you can’t be with us today, make sure to take part in the Alliance for Fair Food national call-in day TODAY to President Drake’s office!  Here’s how:

1. Call the Office of the President of Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio at (614) 292-2424

2. Ask if you can leave a message for President Drake regarding OSU’s business with Wendy’s tomato purchasing policies.

3. You’ll likely be directed to an assistant. Once you get someone on the line, give your statement. Feel free to offer your own personal comments, or use the script provided below!

“Hi, my name is ________ and I am calling to urge you, President Drake, to cut Ohio State’s contract with Wendy’s. By refusing to sign onto the Presidential Award-winning Fair Food Program, Wendy’s has put profit above workplace protections against wage theft, sexual assault, and modern-day slavery. They have also rejected the notion of paying workers just one penny more per pound of tomatoes in an effort to raise wages for some of the nation’s lowest paid and most exploited workers. As one of the country’s largest and most renowned universities, it is OSU’s responsibility to cut its business ties with Wendy’s until they commit to improving workplace conditions and wages for farmworkers on the fields they purchase tomatoes from. If OSU truly strives to embody its motto of “Education for Citizenship” then it should hold Wendy’s accountable and show students, community members and the world at large that OSU will be on the right side of history on this issue. The choice is yours, President Drake, and OSU students, many of whom have sacrificed classes, assignments and other activities to join in solidarity with farmworkers, are expecting you to make the only moral choice — to boot Wendy’s off-campus until they join the Fair Food Program. It’s time for the OSU administration to join the campus community in supporting the farmworkers who feed us.”

4. Post about it! Let us know that you called and invite your friends to make a call, too, on social media.

Stay tuned for more on today’s massive action, and more from the 4 for Fair Food Tour, in the days ahead!