Wendy’s annual shareholder meeting began before 8 a.m. in the quiet Columbus suburb of Dublin, Ohio, on a cold, wind-whipped Monday morning. Undaunted, some 75 people, inspired by the tireless organizing of Ohio allies, took the workday off to travel to the action, from as far away as Cincinnati and Ann Arbor. Fair Food Nation members brandished their banners and signs, forming a funnel for the arriving shareholders. The crew was made up of countless organizations, their bond now deep after two and a half years of organizing together in the Wendy’s campaign: Ohio Fair Food, the Cincinnati Interfaith Workers Center, the Central Ohio Workers Center, SFA at the Ohio State University, SFA at the University of Michigan, Real Food Challenge, Ohio AFL-CIO, Communication Workers of America and First Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbus, to name just a few!
Immediately before the meeting, the gathered protesters turned the gray day vibrant as they chanted and cheered in a jubilant send-off to CIW’s Lupe Gonzalo as she headed inside the meeting. As the doors closed, the allies picked up their yellow flags and marched to the Wendy’s nearby flagship restaurant. After a high-spirited protest there, the group gathered 'round for a spontaneous reflection. When the circle finally closed, nobody was ready to leave without hearing the meeting report — so everyone piled into a nearby coffee shop to escape the wind and await the news.
At just about that time, inside the meeting, the moment had finally come for Lupe to address Wendy’s executives and shareholders alike. Word for word, here is what she said:
Buenos dias. Mi nombre es Lupe Gonzalo. Soy un representante de la Coalición de Trabajadores de Immokalee. Estoy aquí el día de hoy por que hace 10 años ya, que enviamos una carta pidiéndole a Wendy’s a llegar a un estándar de ética mas elevado dentro de su cadena de surtidores, y a pagar un precio mas alto para los sueldos de pobreza que reciben los trabajadores del campo.
Desde entonces, 90% de los rancheros del tomate de la Florida se han unido al Programa por Comida Justa, al lado de los cuatro competidores mas grandes de Wendy’s que han reconocido el Programa como un paso importante para modernizar sus cadenas de surtidores.
Sin duda, el Programa ha movido mucha de la industria del tomate en la Florida al siglo 21: eliminando esclavitud moderna y enormemente reduciendo el acoso sexual, entre otras cosas. Por eso, este año, la casa blanca nos premió con la Medalla Presidencial por esfuerzos extraordinarios en combatir al esclavitud moderna.
Pero, no queremos quedarnos ahi. No queremos que este programa solamente afecta a miles de trabajadores adentro de los campos del tomate en la Florida, sino que también a los cientos de miles de trabajadores en otros estados y otros vegetales. Con el compromiso de Walmart en 2014, ya estamos listos para esa expansion.
Pero se necesita el compromiso de Wendy’s para que los trabajadores en su cadena no quedan afuera. A la vez, participar en el programa le ayudaría a Wendy’s a prevenir el riesgo de relaciones publicas y poder dar a sus consumidores un producto que realmente es honesto.
Shareholders smiled and nodded in Lupe’s direction. As she finished, heads turned back to the front of the room for CEO Emil Brolick’s response:
We are proud to partner with suppliers that share our commitment to ethical business behaviors. We have previously communicated our stance on the Fair Food Premium: While we support the goals of an organization that seeks to improve human rights, we prefer to rely on our suppliers to act as signatories to the agreement. We are in the process of developing a Supplier Code of Conduct by year-end, and will continue to consider the best means of promoting responsible business practices in our suppliers.
Next up was a statement prepared by Ohio State University SFA’s Amanda Ferguson:
Last year, my fellow student at OSU, Sara Stanger, stood here and informed you that after countless unanswered attempts at communicating with Wendy’s leadership, we were moving forward with a national campaign called Boot the Braids, wherein we — and students around the country — would be meeting with our administrations and organizing demonstrations on our campuses to end university licensing contracts with Wendy’s until the company commits to support the CIW’s Fair Food Program.
In the year since then, Wendy’s has still not joined what the Washington Post called “one of the great human rights success stories of our day.” And the reaction from millennials like myself has only grown stronger. […]
[…] Two months ago, with still no word from Wendy’s, students from universities across the country with Wendy’s restaurants on campus took to the stage before thousands at the CIW’s Concert & Parade for Fair Food and announced a national student boycott of Wendy’s — to begin on my campus, OSU. Since that time, the University of Michigan, whose students stand in support outside of this meeting space, has likewise adopted the boycott, and dozens of others are preparing to follow suit.
As a millennial, I recognize I am part of the target market of the fast food industry. I speak for my generation when I say that new, flashy branding and modern restaurants are not enough to attract our business. Our concerns for the food we eat goes beyond the menu. As students and young people, we want to know that the food we consume does not come at the cost of another person’s dignity. We want to know that this is a commitment of Wendy’s, too.
As the student boycott continues to grow, is Wendy’s ready to continue alienating young people and consumers rather than join a proven solution to farmworker poverty and abuse?
And with that, the meeting was adjourned and all were excused — though not before two shareholders approached Lupe to tell her how powerfully she had delivered the CIW’s message, and that they would be keeping an eye on this matter with their organizations’ pension funds in mind.
Fifteen minutes later, as Lupe walked through the double doors of the café where the protestors were gathered together with their warm drinks, the crowd burst into thunderous applause and cheers. Moved by the unexpected, beautiful show of support, Lupe gave a powerful report-back from the meeting, letting them know that the presence and commitment of each and every one of them — and each and every person in the fair food movement, from the workers in Immokalee to those who are always ready to stand with them — not only make this struggle for justice possible, but enriching and joyous along the way.