“We know that freedom has many dimensions. It is the right of the man who tills the land to own the land; the right of the workers to join together to seek better conditions of labor…” These words, spoken by Robert F. Kennedy at the 1962 World’s Fair in Seattle, the same year Cesar Chavez founded the National Farm Workers Association, echo today, leaving reverberations across the United States. Cesar Chavez, who had been protesting for better living conditions for migrant workers in California, encouraged his fellow Americans to boycott the grape industry that underpaid and abused its workers.
Even in 2019, and on the liberal campus of UF, we continue to see human rights abuses. Students have begun to boycott the burger chain Wendy’s due to its refusal to join the Fair Food Program. Wendy’s, which is a popular fast food chain with a location in the Reitz Union, is not a member of the Fair Food Program, which ensures better wages and conditions for agricultural workers in the fast food and supermarket industry. According to a flyer for the recent march in support of Wendy’s workers, agriculture suppliers for fast food chains that are not a part of the Fair Food Program, such as Wendy’s, endure sexual abuse, forced labor and child labor. According to a study done by the University of California - Santa Cruz, roughly 80 percent of female farm workers in California’s Central Valley endure sexual harassment or abuse during their time at work. These conditions are eerily similar to those that migrant workers from the Central Valley of California, where Cesar Chavez worked and protested, endured.
Wendy’s is the last major fast food corporation to have not joined the Fair Food Program. Aside from merely refusing to join, Wendy’s is consciously avoiding increased rights for its agricultural workers. When the Fair Food Program was enacted in Florida, Wendy’s began harvesting its tomatoes from Mexico instead, where there aren’t the same protections for workers. In doing so, Wendy’s managed to maintain its competitively low prices, including its “4 for $4” deal, hence the march’s title “4 for Fair Food Tour.”
The 4 for Fair Food Tour came to UF March 14 to support the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, Chispas UF and Boot the Braids UF. These groups are fighting for expanded rights for Wendy’s farm workers and have demanded that UF “boot the braids,” meaning UF ban Wendy’s from campus until it vows to join the Fair Food Program. The Gainesville City Commission recently passed a resolution encouraging UF to sever ties with the fast food chain. UF has not yet responded to this call to action; hopefully, Wendy’s will soon no longer be on campus.
Despite Wendy’s delicious Frostys and burgers, nothing can justify human rights violations. The university would be wise to divest itself of any corporations that deny human rights, and Wendy’s is just the tip of the iceberg. This must end. Write letters to UF administrators and sign petitions demanding they sever ties with abusive corporations.
More than five decades after Chavez demanded an expansion of workers’ rights, we continue to see human rights violations, even on campuses that we believe to be safe bubbles. Kennedy was right when he said workers had the right to join together to see better conditions for labor, and so do we, as students and humans. It’s time Wendy’s promised its farm workers livable conditions. We can be a part of the solution.
Hannah Whitaker is a UF English sophomore. Her column normally appears on Mondays.