The Pioneer

Tomato farm workers against Wendy’s fast food chain

Erika Martinez,
Staff Writer

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Since March, there have been calls to boycott Wendy’s fast food restaurants. Workers’ rights groups across the East Coast, from Florida to New York, have been marching and protesting the poor safety conditions of farmworkers.

Since 1993, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), an organization of farmworkers, have unionized to advocate the right of farmworkers to have a livable wage and a safe, non-violent and sexual harassment-free environment.

In 2011, the Fair Food Program (FFP) was established by the CIW, which protects farm workers from exploitation and ensures a contract between the farmworkers, tomato growers and retail buyers. Under the FFP, retail buyers agree to pay a small fare for every tomato picked that goes on to the farmworker’s paycheck.

Calling out Wendy’s on joining the FFP is not the first time the CIW has done this. In the past, they have called out other fast food chain restaurants like Taco Bell, Burger King, Subway, McDonald’s and Chipotle Mexican Grill. Each case was not an easy process and took protest after protest in order to convince these companies to agree to the Fair Food Program contract.

Cal State East Bay business professor, Timothy Wat, commented, “I believe exploiting or underpaying workers is not only cruel and inhumane, it’s also poor business. It presumes the myopic short-sighted focus on cutting costs, at all costs, inexorably ends up handicapping the performance of an organization’s most valuable asset – its human resources. Whether this is really the case in this particular situation between Wendy’s and the CIW remains to be seen.”

All the pressure is on Wendy’s now. It is one of the major food chains still refusing to join the FFP, and has even stopped buying tomatoes in Florida ever since this implementation.

Multinational business has long pursued higher quality and lower cost of inputs as a reason for relocating parts of the value chain overseas. It’s the reason our smartphones are manufactured in China, our sneakers are made in Indonesia, and our customer service calls are routed to India, Ireland and a host of other places,” Wat told The Pioneer.

Wendy’s claims to have relocated in purchasing tomatoes due to the better quality of tomatoes and not because of the implementation of joining the Fair Food Program. Unions like the CIW and programs like the FFP, however, are not implemented for many farmworkers in Mexico and have less protection in the workplace leaving the real cause for this decision from Wendy’s a controversy.

“Wendy’s doesn’t really care how tomatoes get picked and how much people are getting paid for the tomato, they just care that their tomato producers are selling them the Wendy’s appropriate tomato for a specific price, and that price is typically hella cheap,” stated ethnic studies professor, Alberto Valdivia.

This situation has given Wendy’s a bad reputation, and any decision they make now will affect the future of their company over time.

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