By Yvonne Hileman
Presbyterian women and men are standing with migrant farmworkers during the Coalition of Immokalee Worker (CIW)'s ten-day, ten-city march from Immokalee, Florida, to Wendy’s home state of Ohio and back. The march will end with a 24-hour vigil Friday at Publix in Lakeland, Florida.
The tour stopped in Louisville, Kentucky, yesterday and is headed to Nashville today. The march recalls other CIW marches and protests, and capitalizes on advances in farmworkers’ rights, corporate responsibility and growers’ accountability. In 2000, CIW’s dramatic 200-mile march galvanized public support for ending exploitation in Florida’s tomato fields and culminated in a call for Publix to honor the work of farmers by committing to pay them more and protect their safety. The current march began in Immokalee on March 5 and will end in Lakeland on March 15.
CIW and supporters celebrated International Women's Day (March 8) with a demonstration in Columbus, Ohio, then visited Wendy's headquarters in Dublin, Ohio, March 9. The coalition is asking Wendy's to join the Fair Food Program. Wendy's is the only one of the top five fast-food chains in the United States not to have done so.
The Fair Food Program (FFP) is a farmworker- and consumer-driven initiative that includes a wage increase for farmworkers supported by a price premium paid by corporate purchasers of Florida tomatoes. It also includes a human-rights-based Code of Conduct, applicable throughout the Florida tomato industry. The coalition says, “The price premium and the Code of Conduct, which were developed by tomato workers, growers and corporate buyers in a groundbreaking collaboration, form the foundation for a new model of social accountability.”
The program emerged from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ (CIW) successful Campaign for Fair Food, a campaign to affirm the human rights of tomato workers and improve the conditions under which they labor.
So far, Wendy's has resisted the call to join the program, saying, “CIW demands we make payments to employees of the companies who supply our tomatoes from the Immokalee area in Florida . . . We believe it’s inappropriate to demand that one company pay another company’s employees. America doesn’t work that way.”
This suggests that what CIW seeks is un-American. In fact, CIW is not asking Wendy's to pay tomato workers. CIW is asking Wendy's to join the Fair Food Program, which requires participating buyers to pay a Fair Food Premium for purchases of Florida tomatoes. That premium, CIW says, is similar to any fair trade premium, and is not paid by the buyer directly to the workers. "[It] is, in fact, built into the final price of tomatoes, on the invoice paid to participating growers. The buyers simply pay for their tomatoes as they always have, only now with a small premium. The accounting and distribution of the penny-per-pound funds are handled by the growers, who pay workers in the form of a bonus on their regular paycheck. Wendy’s would not make any payments to any employees of other companies.”
[A]s to its implicit premise—that the Fair Food Program itself is somehow un-American—we would submit that there is nothing more “American” than social reform. Yes, slavery was American, but the Abolitionist movement ultimately proved to be more in keeping with the fundamental promises on which this country was founded than did that brutal institution of exploitation. Yes, the subjugation of women was American, but the Suffragist movement ultimately proved more American. And yes, the systematic legal and economic oppression of African Americans was American, and staunchly defended by some of this country’s greatest and most respected minds, but ultimately the Civil Rights movement proved far, far more American.
And yes, for generations, the systematic exploitation and degradation of the men and women who toil in our fields was every bit as American as all those other social ills. But, ultimately, we are quite certain that the Fair Food movement—including its premium, designed to redress decades of farmworker poverty created, in significant part, by the volume purchasing power of multi-billion dollar buyers like Wendy’s—will prove more American.*
Visit the Coalition of Immokalee Workers Facebook page and the coalition's web pages to learn more (https://ciw-online.org). Go to www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/fairfood/take-action-fair-food to learn more about action you can take to support fair food.