VICTORY! Wendy’s not welcome on University of Michigan campus until the fast food giant joins the Fair Food Program!

University of Michigan student marching in the 2017 Fair Food Parade in Columbus, Ohio.

Student Union Board of Representatives:  “It is the position of the Michigan Union Board of Representatives to not support companies that engage in practices deemed unethical by the Fair Food Program…”

One down, three to go, and the “4 for Fair Food” Tour hasn’t even started yet!

After years of building their case to kick Wendy’s off campus, students at the University of Michigan have won their battle to “Boot the Braids” until the fast-food giant joins the Fair Food Program.  The move turns next month’s planned demonstration on the UM campus into a celebration, and sends an unmistakable message to the administrations at other schools where students are demanding that Wendy’s put human rights on the menu, or take its business elsewhere.  

With the CIW’s human rights tour just weeks away, a dramatic wave of support for the Fair Food Program surged across the UM community this past month, marked by skyrocketing support for a student petition, overwhelming backing from the Student Government for a strongly-worded resolution, and a powerful statement, quoted above, from the Michigan Union Board of Representatives (which, as it happens, plays a key role in choosing vendors for the university’s massive student union).  Even the city of Ann Arbor got in on the action with an unequivocal resolution by the City Council. 

Kimberly Daley, a postdoctoral fellow in the School of Public Health at the University of Michigan and member of the Washtenaw Solidarity with Farmworkers group that has taken the lead on the Boot the Braids Campaign, sums up the sentiment on campus in the wake of this momentous decision, with a statement on behalf of the student movement there:

Intrepid students from the University of Michigan post up outside of the campus Wendy’s, urging passing students to join the national boycott in 2016.

“As influential public institutions, our universities have a responsibility to maintain a clear and unwavering moral standard in their business relationships.  Wendy’s, as the sole fast-food company that has yet to join the Fair Food Program, has refused to meet that standard. Instead of cheap “4 for $4” meals, as students, we need to see human rights on the menu. Until then, students, university officials and local leaders alike in Ann Arbor have declared that Wendy’s is not welcome on our campus.”

Michiganders have made one thing abundantly clear: Wendy’s has worn out its welcome in Ann Arbor, and will most certainly not be invited back until it cleans up its act and joins the Fair Food Program like the rest of the fast-food industry giants.  Now the attention of the Fair Food Nation turns to the other universities on the tour – principal among them UM’s key rival just a few hours away, Ohio State University – contemplating whether to continue doing business with a company as deeply compromised as Wendy’s.

How we got here…

The exciting news at the University of Michigan unfolded over the course of a dramatic two weeks, but it was the culmination of more than four years of hard organizing work by students like Kim and community members with Washtenaw Solidarity with Farmworkers. 

The pressure on UM to end its business relationship with Wendy’s started to build in late 2017, with the release of a report – commissioned by UM’s own Advisory Committee on Labor Standards and Human Rights – that aimed to accomplish the following mission:

“Identify the labor standards and human rights issues within these two categories; identify external partners to assist the university; contact universities who share similar perspectives and are willing to work with UM; and, present feasible pathways for improving labor standards in these two categories that outlines necessary tasks and cost.”

The study’s conclusion?  “The Fair Food Program is the most comprehensive social responsibility program in the U.S.,” and the best thing that the University of Michigan could do in order to improve labor standards would be to “become a signatory to the Fair Food Program.”

Following the study’s publication, UM students continued organizing a growing campus movement calling on the University administration to honor the Advisory Committee’s conclusions and stand behind the Fair Food Program.  And the movement didn’t confine itself to the four corners of the campus, as student leaders began calling on the broader community of Ann Arbor to join them in boycotting the final fast food holdout.  

Finally, on the first of the month, news broke of the campaign’s long-awaited success.  In an article on UM’s news hub,, the announcement came that Wendy’s would indeed not be returning to campus:

Wendy’s won’t return to University of Michigan when Michigan Union reopens

ANN ARBOR, MI – When the Michigan Union reopens to the public in 2020, a group of local activists doesn’t want Wendy’s to be one of the dining options inside.

Washtenaw Solidarity With Farmworkers, a group of students and community activists, have circulated an online petition urging UM to deny Wendy’s bid for a spot in the building’s basement, and to endorse the Fair Food Program. …

… Beyond denying the bid from Wendy’s, Washtenaw Solidarity With Farmworkers want UM to update its code of conduct requiring all restaurants provide full public transparency regarding labor justice within supply chains.

“Students and community members have been working with the University of Michigan since 2015 to ask for support of farmworker justice through preventing Wendy’s, a holdout among major fast food restaurants in its refusal to sign on to the Fair Food Campaign, from having a presence on campus,” the group’s petition states.

UM currently is in the process of a competitive bid process for three fast food-casual restaurant spots in the Michigan Union, UM Spokesperson Kim Broekhuizen said. Responses were due at the close of 2018.

A team comprised of UM students as well as employees from the university’s Procurement Services, University Unions and Auxiliary Services currently are evaluating the bids and will likely make selections for the three spots in the next few months,” Broekhuizen said.

Predictably, Wendy’s representative Heidi Schauer – the very same Heidi Schauer who, amazingly, claimed that farmworker women going without food on the streets of New York were “exploiting the #MeToo movement” because they dared to fight for an end to sexual violence in the fields, a comment that sparked a sharp response from #MeToo leaders like Alyssa Milano – tried to spin the news by claiming that Wendy’s removal from UM had nothing to do with the mounting pressure on campus to remove the fast food chain from the student union for good.

UPDATE: Wendy’s Director of Corporate Communications Heidi Schauer confirmed the franchisee owner and operator of the Wendy’s located in the Michigan Union made the decision to not pursue a new lease when the Union closed in April 2018.

“The efforts of that group were not a factor in the franchisee’s decision to not renew the lease,” Schauer said. “This was a business decision.”

But the student movement had a message of its own for Wendy’s and its PR director: Don’t get it twisted, Wendy’s, we don’t want you here.

In the wake of the story, student and community leaders rose up with a single voice to let Wendy’s know that it was no longer welcome in town.  First, the Ann Arbor City Council spoke, taking a definitive vote in support of the Fair Food Program.  On February 4th, the Council unanimously approved a resolution in support of the Wendy’s Boycott, and specifically urged the University of Michigan to reject Wendy’s.  Here below is an excerpt:

Resolution to Encourage Ann Arbor Community Members to Support Farm Workers Rights and to Boycott Wendy’s and Other Food Service Providers not Supportive of the Fair Food Program

The City of Ann Arbor strives to be a warm and welcoming community, protective of human rights, supportive of sustainable practices, and demanding of safe working conditions. However, the supply chain for many large food service providers have historically created or condoned conditions that are unsafe for farmworkers through their supply chains. Although several popular chains have signed onto the Fair Food Program, Wendy’s has not and as a result the City Council calls for all members of the Ann Arbor community, including its largest institutions, to boycott Wendy’s until the company joins the Fair Food Program. […]

[…] Whereas, The Procurement Office at the University of Michigan is currently engaging in a “competitive bidding process” to select vendors in the basement of the Michigan Union, where Wendy’s previously existed on campus;

RESOLVED, That the City Council encourages the University of Michigan to reject any bid from Wendy’s to be a vendor in the Michigan Union; and

RESOLVED, That the City Council encourages members of the Ann Arbor community, including large institutions providing space for food service franchise, to boycott Wendy’s until they demonstrate their commitment to farmworkers’ rights by joining the Fair Food Program.

Then the Central Student Government of University of Michigan took the mic, passing its own resolution by a landslide margin on Tuesday, February 12th:

RESOLVED, Central Student Government (hereafter CSG) recognizes the importance of programs such as the Fair Food Program, which support fair labor rights in the supply of food, due to well-documented evidence and the CIW’s widely-recognized credentials; AND BE IT FURTHER

RESOLVED, CSG will advocate for the University to boycott Wendy’s until they join the Fair Food Program and agree to protect the basic human rights of workers in their supply chain; AND BE IT FURTHER

RESOLVED, CSG urges the University of Michigan to endorse the Fair Food Program; AND BE IT FURTHER

RESOLVED, CSG urges U-M administration to adopt the changes recommended in the President’s Advisory Report, including updating the vendor code of conduct, requiring disclosure of supply chain for products provided to UM, giving the University the right to independent investigations of contractors, and adding labor standard questions in the Request for Proposal (RFP) and Request for Quotes (RFQ) templates; AND BE IT FURTHER

RESOLVED, A copy of this resolution will be sent to Susan Piles, Senior Director of the University Unions; Amy White, Director of the Union; Ravi Anupindi, Director of the Committee on Human Rights and Labor Practices; Mark Schlissel, University President; The Board of Regents; the other Big 10 University student governments; and additional members of the University as recommended; AND BE IT FINALLY

RESOLVED, This resolution will be presented at the next Board of Regents meeting on February 21, 2019.

And then the University of Michigan Union Board of Representatives added its influential voice to the growing chorus with its own unequivocal statement of support for the Fair Food Program and rejection of Wendy’s:

Based on the public comments we received at our January meeting, it is the position of the Michigan Union Board of Representatives to not support companies that engage in practices deemed unethical by the Fair Food Program.  MUBR believes that vendors’ endorsement of labor justice should be weighed heavily when choosing food vendors who will progress through the selection process.

And with that, the final nail in Wendy’s coffin on UM campus was driven.

Where we go from here…

This major victory at the University of Michigan is only the beginning.  Since the early days of the anti-sweatshop movement in the 1990s, UM has been a leader in student-led efforts to demand respect for the fundamental human rights of workers who supply the goods they consume on campus.  And as was the case then for apparel, UM’s leadership will set the example for universities across the country as they assess their food supply chains in the months and years ahead.  In particular, the message sent by the University of Michigan today will echo across the campuses of the other three colleges where students are organizing in support of next month’s “4 for Fair Food” Tour.  With the tour just around the corner, news of the precedent set on UM’s campus has already triggered a surge of energy at OSU, UNC, and UF, as well as in the broader Boot the Braids Campaign that is gaining momentum across the nation.

And when all is said and done, there is no amount of public relations spin that will shield Wendy’s from the reality that a door to a lucrative business opportunity has been closed to the fast-food chain, explicitly because the company has failed to meet the industry standard of social responsibility: the Presidential Medal-winning Fair Food Program.

Stay tuned for more on this exciting development – and plans for UNC, OSU and UF!