Rhode Island Fights for Fair Food! January – April 2013

This past January marked the beginning and escalation of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ campaign calling on major fast food corporation Wendy’s to sign onto its Fair Food Agreement.  The award-winningAgreement guarantees a fair wage and just working conditions to Florida tomato pickers, as well as a voice in the process of determining work conditions, and has been signed by eleven major food service, supermarket, and fast food corporations to date.  Four out of the top five US fast food corporations have signed onto the Agreement; Wendy’s is the final fast food holdout, standing alone in its refusal to join the Fair Food Program and respect the rights and dignity of farmworkers in its supply chain.  Since January, Fair Food compañeras, compañeros, and compañeraos from around the country have been delivering letters to Wendy’s managers, performing skits, picketing, singing, chanting, making phone calls, signing petitions, and marching to tell Wendy to grow up and sign the Fair Food Agreement (see the CIW websitefor reports!).  Wendy’s has over twenty locations in Rhode Island and three in Providence alone, and Fair Food fighters here have persistently pressed Wendy’s to recognize the rights of farmworkers in a way that shows the big and caring heart of this very small state.

The CIW ally movement in Rhode Island kicked off our campaign at the Eddy Street Wendy’s in Providence with a letter delivery on the CIW’s first national day of action directed at Wendy’s.  In what was a first letter delivery for some, a group of Brown Student Labor Alliance (SLA) members (affiliated with theStudent/Farmworker Alliance, the national student movement allying with the CIW) met with receptive Wendy’s managers who promised to pass the letter on to their supervisors.  After no response from Wendy’s to this national outcry, the Fair Food movement mobilized in dozens of actions on Valentine’s Day calling on Wendy’s to “show love to tomato pickers.”  In Rhode Island, members of SLA, along with members of Brown Christian Fellowship, Service Employees International Union 1199, and MEChA made Valentines and delivered them (along with a letter explaining our demands) to all three Wendy’s locations in Providence; at the Eddy Street Wendy’s, we performed a skit in which a penny broke up with Wendy in order to be with farmworkers, reflecting the CIW’s demand that Wendy’s pay one penny more per pound of tomatoes (see our earlier blog post!).  The farmworkers in our skit were overjoyed, but Wendy refused to even acknowledge the hundreds of people who wrote her Valentines nationwide, breaking our hearts!

First action:  Image

Valentine’s Day:  ImageImageImageImageImage

In the thick of the Wendy’s campaign, a group of SLA members bused down to Florida to join hundreds of people from around the country for the last three days of a 200-mile, two-week-long March for Rights, Respect, and Fair Food from Fort Myers to Lakeland, Florida.  Lakeland is the home of the headquarters of Publix, one of the largest supermarket chains in the southeast US and the target of a three-year campaign by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.  The final day, over 1500 people came out to march and celebrate the beauty of the New Day for Florida farmworkers by dancing, participating in a teatro, playing and listening to son jarocho, gospel, folk, and music of all kinds, and listening to people of faith, students, farmers, and of course, farmworkers, share about their participation in the movement.  These days spent together gave all involved an opportunity to experience the joy and effectiveness of hundreds of people solidarizing to seek liberation from the exploitation of our current food system.  As one SFA member remarked, “Gracias por un fin de semana inolvidable; regresamos a casa llenos de inspiración, motivación y fuerza!”

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Already energized by the March, the Rhode Island Fair Food movement was visited by Oscar Otzoy of the CIW and Claudia Saenz of the Student/Farmworker Alliance in late April in a series of charlas co-sponsored by the Student Labor Alliance and the Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice.  Two hundred people from the greater Providence area, including allies from the MET high school, the Olneyville Neighborhood Association, English for Action, Service Employees International Union 1199, Unite Here 217, and local activists and farmers, came out to hear from Oscar and Claudia about the Fair Food Program and the changes occurring in Florida tomato fields thanks to the New Day.  Oscar and Claudia joined with Mariela Martinez of the Student Labor Alliance and Raymond Watson, Executive Director of the Mount Hope Neighborhood Association and Chief of the Wauchaunat Band of the Narragansett Nation for a panel about modern-day slavery and labor justice.  Their visit ended with the first picket at a Rhode Island Wendy’s on Friday, April 26, with Brown students from SLA and ally groups flyering all cars going through the drive thru, speaking with customers about the Fair Food Program, and marching and chanting “Your burgers may be square, but your food ain’t fair!”  We delivered a letter to the manager, who initially refused it but later agreed to pass it on to their supervisor.

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Shortly before Claudia and Oscar’s visit, many of those involved in the Fair Food campaign in Rhode Island celebrated an international anti-sweatshop victory after two years of pressuring major apparel brand Adidas to pay Indonesian workers $1.8 million in legally owed severance.  The United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) campaign organized students around the country to pressure their universities to cut their contracts with Adidas.  The strength of student power was clear in this hard-won USAS victory, and student CIW allies (many of whom are also part of the USAS struggle) around the nation and in Rhode Island were inspired and spurred on by this lucha.  See pictures below!

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See the next post for news about more recent months!

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