BREAKING: Major victory in the Ohio State “Boot the Braids” campaign!

Protesters leave hundreds of red carnations at the doorstep of the Ohio State University administration building nearly two years ago to the day, following a march to the OSU campus through Columbus, Ohio, in March of 2019.  The flowers – given first to the OSU students who held a sit-in on March 7th, and then to the rest of the participants in the action – symbolize the strength and resolve farmworker women maintain even while routinely confronting sexual harassment and assault outside the protections of the CIW’s Fair Food Program, the leading human rights program in US agriculture today. Students at OSU were demanding that their administration cut the university’s contract with Wendy’s until the hamburger giant agrees to join the Fair Food Program.  With this week’s vote, the OSU student government has given its unanimous support to that call.

Ohio State University Student Government passes unanimous resolution urging administration not to renew Wendy’s lease over fast food giant’s refusal to join award-winning Fair Food Program!

Wednesday night marked a major step forward in the ever-growing national Wendy’s Boycott with breaking news from the Student/Farmworker Alliance about a monumental victory out of the Ohio State University.  In a unanimous vote, the Ohio State Undergraduate Student Government passed a resolution urging the OSU administration not to renew its soon-to-expire lease agreement for an on-campus Wendy’s due to the company’s utter failure to back verifiable human rights protections for farmworkers in its supply chain by committing to the Fair Food Program.  Not only does the resolution laud the Fair Food Program as “the gold standard for enforcing human rights in the U.S. agricultural system as well as across global supply chains,” but it also encourages the entire OSU community to support farmworkers’ rights by joining the Wendy’s Boycott.

Before the resolution went up for a vote, several senators reflected on the urgency of the matter, given that the lease for the Wendy’s restaurant located in Doan Hall is set to expire on June 30, 2021.  OSU Student Government senator Teresa Lebowitz shared her thoughts on the floor:

“This legislation encompasses our responsibility as senators to hold the university accountable both internally and externally through partnerships with other companies. This piece resonates with me because it highlights the importance of humanity over profits. Wendy’s refusal to join the Fair Food Program calls attention to their willful ignorance, and Ohio State idly participates in this ignorance when refusing to acknowledge Wendy’s wrongdoings.”

Another senator focused on the critical role farmworkers play in feeding the nation as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on.  Student senator Greg Carson reflected:

“As stated in the resolution, farmworkers are literally risking their lives doing essential work that does go unnoticed and it shouldn’t be that way. I was interested in this resolution because I gained knowledge about the struggles farmworkers have to endure but also Wendys, a franchise I once thought was unproblematic.”

Anna Valerius, the primary student senator championing the resolution, welcomed CIW’s own Gerardo Reyes Chavez to speak before the senate floor, grounding the discussion in the farmworker experience and giving insight into the transformative power of the Fair Food Program.  Simply put, he said, “eating includes the experience of workers.”

Here below is an excerpt from the unanimous “Boot the Braids” resolution:

A Resolution Urging the Ohio State University Administration Not to Renew the Lease for the Wendy’s on Campus Until it Joins the Fair Food Program

[…] Whereas Wendy’s Supplier Code of Conduct — as assessed by a former Ohio State professor of labor law at the Moritz College of Law from 1992 to 2011, and a member of the University Labor Advisory Committee for the final ten years of his service — does little to address violations of human rights for farmworkers and has been described as “little more than a sham,” and,

Whereas, Wendy’s currently states on its website that it relies upon “third-party reviews” to determine whether its suppliers are in compliance with Wendy’s Supplier Code of Conduct, but one of the audits it refers to there as “commonly used”—SA8000– was held by a Pakistani textile factory in which 262 workers were killed in a fire. 

Whereas, in contrast, the Fair Food Program is the “gold standard” of social responsibility programs, as confirmed by a recent independent study of 40 leading initiatives which found the FFP represents “the only existing model with the proven potential to afford protection for the most vulnerable and lowest-wage workers in global supply chains,” and,

Whereas Wendy’s international headquarters is based just outside Columbus in Dublin, Ohio,  and,

Whereas farmworkers continue to do the essential work of providing food for the Ohio State Community and the whole country during a deadly global pandemic and a recent study showed that food and agricultural workers have suffered the highest COVID-19 death rates of workers in any occupation; and,

Whereas the Fair Food Program has launched the COVID-19 Illness Prevention, Assessment and Response Plan, the country’s first (and thus far, only) known mandatory and privately-enforced health and safety protocols for farmworkers, which has resulted in access to PPE for workers, social distancing measures, sick leave, and other necessary protective measures, as farmworker Antonia Rios Hernandez recently explained to the New York Times, and,

Whereas the Ohio State University should cut ties with Wendy’s by not renewing the lease for the Wendy’s restaurant at Doan Hall at the Ohio State University, in order to send a message that Wendy’s behavior will not be tolerated and the University will only do business with socially-responsible companies whose values align with OSU’s stated principles, and;

Whereas The Ohio State University’s lease agreement with Wendy’s at Doan Hall is set to expire on June 30, 2021, and, 

Whereas, the undergraduate Student Governments of two other flagship state universities, the University of Michigan and the University of Florida, have passed resolutions to not allow Wendy’s as a vendor until it joins the Fair Food Program; then 

Therefore, Let it Be Resolved that The Ohio State University recognizes the CIW’s Fair Food Program as the gold standard for enforcing human rights in the U.S. agricultural system as well as across global supply chains, due to well-documented evidence and the CIW’s widely-recognized and respected credentials, and 

Therefore, Let it Be Resolved the Undergraduate Student Government General Assembly urges The Ohio State University Community to support farmworkers’ human rights and join the national boycott against Wendy’s, and, 

Therefore, Let it Be Resolved the Undergraduate Student Government General Assembly urges the OSU administration to not renew the lease for the Wendy’s currently on campus, and instead allow that lease to expire by its own terms as of July 1, 2021, in keeping with the promises made by the University to students in 2015 — unless Wendy’s agrees to protect the human rights of farmworkers in its supply chain by joining the CIW’s Fair Food Program.

The current student-led effort to boot Wendy’s from campus is just the latest chapter in a multi-year campaign on the OSU campus for Fair Food.  In fact, there is a rich and lengthy history of student activism in the Wendy’s campaign at OSU that spans back over the course of seven years. In 2014, when the Student/Farmworker Alliance launched the nationwide “Boot the Braids” campaign, calling on university administrations to cut ties with Wendy’s over the company’s refusal to join the Fair Food Program, the OSU SFA chapter got right to work with an inaugural action targeting former OSU President Michael Drake. After a year of meetings with OSU officials and growing support for the campaign on and off campus, the student movement secured what seemed at the time to be a significant victory from the administration: a clause in OSU’s 2015 lease agreement with the Wendy’s restaurant on campus that made renewal of that lease “conditioned upon a satisfactory resolution of the concerns of Student Farm Workers Alliance.” 

Ohio State Student/Farmworker Alliance organizes a massive march and banner drop in the Student Union in 2017 as a part of the “Boot the Braids” campaign to remove Wendy’s from campus.

But despite Wendy’s ongoing resistance to joining the Fair Food Program — leaving the SFA chapter on campus anything but satisfied — the administration broke its promise in November 2016 and renewed its lease for the Wendy’s on campus, violating its own contractual word.  That betrayal became the motivation behind a semester of intensive student organizing in the spring of 2017, culminating in a seven-day fast by 19 students outside of Bricker Hall and a 500+ march on the Oval.  The students’ courageous action inspired a national movement of rolling fasts, which by the end of the semester had traveled to over a dozen campuses and involved hundreds of students. 

That long history of tireless organizing was the backdrop to this week’s unanimous vote in favor of farmworker justice at OSU, making the student government’s powerful statement that much sweeter for the countless students who have played a role in the years-long struggle.  The magnitude of this latest victory is so great, in fact, as to reach all the way to Immokalee, where the farmworker community sends its heartfelt congratulations to students a thousand miles north for their consciousness and unwavering commitment to Fair Food!

With a new generation of student leaders taking up the Fair Food fight on campus, and with the leadership of President Kristina Johnson at the helm of a new administration at OSU, time will tell if the university will finally honor its students’ legitimate concerns when doing business in the university’s name.  The OSU student body has spoken clearly: The Fair Food Program has a track record second to none for eliminating longstanding farm labor abuses ranging from forced labor to sexual assault, and it’s past time for OSU to end its troubling relationship with Wendy’s until Wendy’s joins the Fair Food Program.  Now, it’s up to OSU to listen. 

This is a developing story, as students are already planning action designed to keep the pressure on the administration to respect the Student Government’s recommendation and let the lease expire on June 30. So be sure to check back soon for more news in the coming weeks from the OSU campaign!