‘Use our voices.’ Protestors challenge Wendy’s to protect farmworkers

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers organized a protest near a North Naples Wendy’s…

'Use our voices.' Protestors challenge Wendy's to protect farmworkers 1
'Use our voices.' Protestors challenge Wendy's to protect farmworkers 2

Brightly painted protest signs filled the sidewalk in front of a North Naples Wendy’s on Sunday afternoon as residents chanted support for farmworkers and spoke against the fast-food chain.

The tomato-shaped signs are a hallmark of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a group that champions farmworker rights. The organization created the Fair Food Program which “ensures basic human rights in the farms for farmworkers,” said Uriel Perez, faith coordinator with the Alliance for Fair Food.

These include the right to work free from wage theft, verbal or physical abuse, zero tolerance policy for sexual violence and forced labor, Perez said.

Fourteen major food retailers including Walmart and McDonald’s are in the program along with 90 percent of Florida tomato growers. Wendy’s has not joined, prompting protests against the company. Perez said there are 30 planned actions across the country this week.

“The only way to achieve our goal is to use our voices,” he said. “They all came to the table with these kinds of actions.”

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It was Kaylee Dombrowski’s first protest against Wendy’s. The Florida Gulf Coast University student was proud to stand with farmworkers, she said.

“I felt I needed to come and show my support,” Dombrowski said.

Wendy’s currently purchases tomatoes from greenhouses across the country, none of which are involved in the Fair Food Program.

A Wendy’s representative said in an email that the company “does not believe that joining the Fair Food Program is the only way to act responsibly, and the company takes pride in long-term relationships with industry-leading suppliers who share a commitment to quality, integrity and ethics.”

The representative also said Wendy’s has a “robust Supplier Code of Conduct” that includes human rights and labor practices and that the company conducts quality assurance audits at all suppliers.

Perez said Wendy’s is not fully supporting farmworkers without joining the Fair Food Program. The pandemic amplified the problem with thousands of workers testing positive for COVID-19, he said.

“While farmworkers are getting sick, Wendy’s is making a profit,” Perez said. “This is an opportunity for Wendy’s to be on the side of essential workers.

If Wendy’s would sign on to the program, it would need to change suppliers to those already in the Fair Food Program or urge its current greenhouse suppliers to get involved. Perez said this is how the program expands.

“If farms wanted to supply Walmart and McDonald’s, they had to join,” he said.

As vaccines are distributed, the group has more actions planned against Wendy’s and Publix. The Florida-based grocery chain has also not joined the program.

“It’s up to the consumers to say it’s not OK to do business without proper protection for farmworkers,” Perez said.

Thaddeus Mast is a south Lee County reporter for the Naples Daily News and The Banner. Support his work by subscribing to our local news organization. Find him on Twitter as @thaddeusmast.

Naples Daily News reporter Omar Rodriguez Ortiz contributed to this report.

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