Yesterday, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), a Florida-based agricultural worker organization, held a sidewalk press conference in New York City. Symbols of faith, a spirit of transformative love, and good news from and for impoverished people were palpable, as workers and their allies demanded that the Wendy’s fast food corporation get with the Fair Food Program.
The gathering occurred in front of the Sofitel Hotel, site of Wendy’s annual shareholders meeting. The luxury hotel is perhaps best known as the site of an encounter between Dominique Strauss-Kahn, then head of the International Monetary Fund, and Nafissatou Diallo, a hotel worker, which sparked a scandal that inadvertently shed fleeting media light on the vast disparities in wealth and decision-making power that exist between global society’s service workers and its financial elites.
Luxury and the scandal of social inequality were again on display at the Sofitel yesterday as the CIW bore witness to the toil and exploitation that are commonplace in highly profitable US agribusinesses: slavery, poverty wages, wage theft, pesticide exposure, sexual harassment and countless other labor abuses. Religious leader allies connected these experiences to the narrative traditions of their communities, invoking Hebrew liberation from slavery in Egypt and the “sinfulness” of exploitation. They demanded that Wendy’s join the CIW’s Fair Food Program, speaking of the need for solidarity amid related human struggles, of a common human family where “We are our brother and sister’s keepers,” and of neighbor love. The program being promoted includes a human rights-based Code of Conduct and a price premium of “a penny per pound” to be added to tomato pickers’ paychecks, provisions that all of Wendy’s major competitors, including McDonald’s, have accepted.
Surprisingly, during the press conference, workers from the NYC-based Fast Food Forward campaign marched on the sidewalk toward the Sofitel from the opposite direction. Having executed the largest fast food workers strike in US history and then inspired an even larger strike in Detroit, they too had beef with Wendy’s. They denounced poverty wages, chanting, “We can’t survive on $7.25” (the state’s minimum wage) and rhythmically rapped their demand of “15 (dollars) and a union.” Like the CIW, they too denounced various modes of wage theft and degrading treatment, with one affirming his inherent dignity saying, “I am a human being, not a machine.”
The CIW’s “Sí Se Puede” chant eventually migrated across the sidewalk to be taken up by the fast food workers. The two groups recognized many common sources of their suffering and their shared desire for living wages and greater decision-making power within their workplaces. When the CIW press conference ended, many joined the Fast Food Forward rally. In these organizations, along with emerging national organizations like the Food Chain Workers Alliance, which aims to unite these disparate worker movements, I see people co-operating with the liberating and unifying Spirit whose creative energy “renews the face of the earth” (Psalm 104:30).
Click here to tell Wendy’s to join CIW’s Fair Food Program.
Click here to tell Wendy’s and other fast food giants that you support NYC’s fast food workers in their demand of a $15 hourly wage and respect for their right to organize a union without employer interference.
See this video for coverage of the CIW’s march in NYC on the Saturday before Wendy’s shareholder meeting.
New York, NY