Rabbi Barbara Penzner: “What is Nelson Peltz teaching his sons at their bar mitzvah celebration?…”

Rabbi Barbara Penzner, middle, speaks with Jon Esformes, Chief Operating Officer of Sunripe Certified Brands (Pacific Tomato Growers) during a 2011 visit to Immokalee.

Jewish blog turns up heat on Wendy’s Board Chairman Nelson Peltz for lavish bar mitzvah, even as Peltz blocks better wages, working conditions for farmworkers at last week’s shareholder meeting…

Nelson Peltz is a very wealthy man, one of the wealthiest people in the world, in fact.  

As Chairman of Wendy’s Board of Directors and one of the company’s largest shareholders, Mr. Peltz is also one of Wendy’s top decision makers.  And Wendy’s is the only one of the country’s top five fast-food companies to decide — in 2016, after five years of unprecedented progress for farmworkers in Florida under the Fair Food Program — that it is better to fight than to join the FFP and help lift the farmworkers who pick their tomatoes out of generations of grinding poverty.

That is why, during the historic Workers’ Voice Tour this past March, thousands of Fair Food supporters traveled the length of the East Coast calling on Wendy’s and Mr. Peltz to do their part to protect farmworkers’ fundamental human rights.  From Mr. Peltz’s towering Park Avenue offices in the heart of Manhattan’s financial district, all the way down to the exclusive vacation community of Palm Beach in Florida (pictured below), where Mr. Peltz’s owns one of the country’s most expensive homes, Fair Food activists demanded basic economic fairness for some of this country’s hardest-working, worst-paid laborers from one of this country’s richest individuals.


But despite the growing pressure on Wendy’s and Mr. Peltz to do the right thing, the hamburger giant remains the last of the big fast-food holdouts from the Fair Food Program. Whether because of some perverse principle understood only by billionaires, or just plain old penuriousness, Mr. Peltz and the company he represents have decided to squeeze their pennies and, in so doing, perpetuate farmworker poverty.

That’s why the news last month that Mr. Peltz decided to throw what the New York Post called “one of the most lavish bar mitzvah celebrations ever” for his twin sons — spending $2 million on “stilt-walkers, two bands, five singers, a hockey rink, basketball hoop and video games” for the celebration — came as such a slap in the face to farmworkers in Florida and throughout Wendy’s supply chain.  That same 2 million dollars would cover Wendy’s Fair Food premium, the premium used to augment the wages of America’s poorest workers, for at least 3 years.

And farmworkers weren’t the only ones taken aback by Mr. Peltz’s remarkable obtuseness in blithely flaunting his family’s great personal fortune while simultaneously turning a blind eye to the extreme generational poverty of farmworkers in his company’s supply chain.  Longtime Fair Food supporter Rabbi Barbara Penzner — a recipient of T’ruah’s “Rabbinic Human Rights Hero” award and co-chair of the New England Jewish Labor Committee — took to the blogosphere and went straight to the heart of the problem: “While Peltz and his family enjoyed a bar mitzvah that celebrates wealth, he and his corporation profit from human rights abuses in the tomato fields.”

Here is Rabbi Penzner’s blog post in full, which includes some colorful hand-written interludes from students in Rabbi Barbara’s synogogue:

A Bar Mitzvah party funded by exploiting workers?

Mazal tov, Nelson Peltz!

We share your joy in celebrating the bar mitzvah of your twin sons.

Bar mitzvah marks a young man’s coming into an age of responsibility. The Jewish community welcomes our young men and women into the world of mitzvot, of Jewish obligations. We look forward to seeing young Zachary and Gregory stepping into this role of making important decisions about their lives, about their Jewish observance, and about how they interact in the world.

Tomato message

In our Boston congregation, the b’nai mitzvah students demonstrate their commitment to others by taking on a community service mitzvah.  In 2011, when T’ruah and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) called on us to speak to Trader Joe’s managers and executives to convince them to sit down at the table with migrant tomato pickers, our students showed up at our local Trader Joe’s with signs and petitions. It didn’t take long for Trader Joe’s to learn that consumers care about where their produce comes from. They didn’t want to buy or sell tomatoes that were associated with slavery, violence, or sexual harassment. Trader Joe’s joined the CIW’s Fair Food Program in 2012, leading to real change for farm workers and their families.

What is Nelson Peltz teaching his sons at their bar mitzvah celebration? While Peltz lavished them with a $2 million dollar celebration, featuring a hockey rink, stilt-walkers, and celebrities, he continues to refuse to even sit at a table with the workers of the CIW. Peltz, as head of Trian Partners, is the largest shareholder in Wendy’s—the last major fast-food corporation to refuse to talk to the CIW. 

While Peltz and his family enjoyed a bar mitzvah that celebrates wealth, he and his corporation profit from human rights abuses in the tomato fields.

Not only has Wendy’s refused to join the CIW’s Fair Food Program, which has unparalleled enforcement (with market consequences) of its human rights protections for Florida’s migrant workers, Wendy’s has abandoned the Florida growers to buy tomatoes from notorious growers in Mexico. 90% of Florida growers are part of the Fair Food Program, supported by 14 major food retailers such as Taco Bell, McDonalds, Subway, Burger King (in other words, all of Wendy’s competitors), Walmart, and Whole Foods. But Wendy’s doesn’t seem to care about true prevention of slavery, worker exploitation, violence, wage theft, or sexual harassment. Instead, Wendy’s chooses to buy cheaper tomatoes from known human rights abusers.

Today, our synagogue students are spreading the word to boycott Wendy’s, until they show real commitment to supporting farm workers rights by joining the Fair Food Program. Recently, the students sent Mr. Peltz their own messages about why he should represent justice, compassion, and fairness.

tomato message 2

We hope that the Peltz bar mitzvah was a joyous occasion. And we also hope that the lessons of bar mitzvah are more than self-congratulations and conspicuous consumption. A Jewish education stresses justice, compassion, and acting for a better world for all. 

As one of our synagogue’s students wrote to Nelson Peltz, urging Wendy’s to join the Fair Food Program, “Your parents would ground you for this.” 

“Your parents would ground you for this…”  And after that, there’s really not much more left to say.



Stay tuned for much more in the Wendy’s campaign in the weeks ahead!