Over 20 years ago, a handful of farmworkers in Immokalee, Florida started meeting in a borrowed room of a local church. They gathered to discuss the routine conditions they experienced in the fields: sub-poverty wages, wage theft, sexual harassment and, in the most extreme cases, modern-day slavery. That conversation was the seed of what was to become the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW). Now two decades later, Columbus has become the focal point of a national struggle for farmworker justice. Of the top five fast food chains in the country -- McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Burger King, Subway and Wendy’s -- Ohio-based Wendy’s is the lone holdout still refusing the workers’ demands. In response, a community group of people of faith, students, organized labor and food justice advocates have come together under the banner of Ohio Fair Food to pressure Wendy’s to respond to farmworkers in their supply chain. The response has grown exponentially over the past six months, with protests growing from 50, to 250, to an expected 1,000-plus at the upcoming March to Wendy’s Headquarters for Farmworker Justice. Farmworkers in Florida produce around 90 percent of the tomatoes distributed around the country in the fall to winter season, propping up a 650 million-dollar industry — but none of that wealth stays with workers. So farmworkers started seeking dialogue with growers to discuss their wages and working conditions. They organized mass work-stoppages, a 230-mile march to the Florida growers’ association, even a 30-day hunger strike, all in an effort just to have a dialogue with growers. But when growers refused, even then, to simply talk, workers came back to the drawing table — and began taking a look at who was really driving down wages and producing abused working conditions in the fields. What they found was that it was the multi-billion dollar corporations who were truly profiting off their exploitation. The conglomeration of retail power at the top enables mega-corporations to leverage their mammoth purchasing power to demand artificially low costs of inputs, which ultimately results in bleak farmworker wages at the bottom. It was those corporations, then, workers reasoned, who should be tasked with reversing this trend. Backed by this new analysis, in 2001, the CIW launched the Campaign for Fair Food, pressuring fast food giant Taco Bell to sign onto the “Fair Food Program” created by workers, for workers. Their demands included a wage increase of one penny more per pound of tomatoes picked and a code of conduct enshrining rights to shade, water and freedom from sexual harassment, among other things. After repeated refusals from Taco Bell, the workers decided to launch a national boycott. At the time, it seemed ridiculous to many: one of the most disenfranchised populations in the country up against Yum! Brands, the largest fast food conglomerate in the world. But workers persisted. They began to call on potential allies — students, community members, fellow workers, faith communities, healthy food systems advocates — to rally together with them. Finally, in 2005, four years later, Taco Bell conceded and joined the Fair Food Program. But the farmworkers didn’t stop there. Since Taco Bell signed in 2005, they went onwards to McDonald’s. Where convincing Taco Bell took four years, with McDonald’s, it took two years. Burger King took one. Subway: six months. Today, a total of twelve multi-billion dollar corporations have joined the Fair Food Program. Just last month, the CIW announced that Wal-Mart, the biggest retailer in the world, had joined the program. The writing had been on the wall. This brings us to the here and now: Columbus, March of 2014. Wendy’s, internationally headquartered in the upscale Columbus suburb of Dublin, has to this date refused to support farmworkers in their supply chain and join the Fair Food Program. Not only is it the lone holdout of the major fast food corporations, but Wendy’s CEO, Emil Brolick, was the President of Taco Bell when they joined the Program in 2005. In fact, upon signing with the CIW in 2005, Brolick issued this statement: “We are willing to play a leadership role within our industry to be part of the solution. We hope others in the restaurant industry and supermarket retail trade will follow our leadership.” Nine years later and now at ther helm of Wendy’s, Brolick seems to not be following his own mandate. Over the past year, Ohioans have been showing tremendous support for these farmworkers, and nowhere stronger than in Columbus. In the preceding months, members of Ohio Fair Food have organized demonstrations, marches and vigils of an escalating nature. First it was a demonstration of 50 in October outside the Wendy’s on 9th & High near Ohio State’s campus, then a march of 250 in November from that same Wendy’s to another on Olentangy River Rd., and most recently a vigil of 125 in December in the frigid cold outside Wendy’s flagship store opening in Dublin. Columbus has gained national prominence in this fight and has become the point of convergence for a 10-day bus tour organized by the CIW called the “Now is the Time” Tour. Hundreds of fair food allies from across the nation as well as over 50 farmworkers from Immokalee will be joining Ohio Fair Food in the March to Wendy’s Headquarters for Farmworker Justice. On Sunday, March 9 in Dublin, Ohio, people will be gathering beginning at 1:45pm at Coffman Park (5200 Emerald Parkway Dublin, OH 43017) and at 2pm, a 2-mile march will commence through downtown Dublin to Wendy’s International Headquarters. For more information on the March and details such as transportation, contact Ohio Fair Food at

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