Students from the Ohio State Student/Farmworker Alliance will be outside of Bricker Hall fasting in protest of OSU’s contract with Wendy’s from March 20 to 25. Credit: Mitch Hooper | Engagement Editor

Members of the Ohio State Student/Farmworker Alliance, farmworkers from Immokalee, Florida, and other protesters from across the country will join together Sunday in Columbus for the coalition’s national Return to Human Rights tour to continue pushing its message to Wendy’s of joining the Fair Food Program as well as continuing putting pressure on the university to end its contract with Wendy’s for its Wexner Medical Center location.

The march will begin at Goodale Park at 1 p.m. and end on campus. Santiago Perez, a member of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, said the group is expecting more than 1,000 people from across the country marching on Sunday.

Perez said he has worked almost every position as a farmworker. Through his experience, he said he feels farmworkers haven’t had a voice to fight for their rights, and this march gives them a chance to have that voice.

“I worked numerous years in agriculture, so I’ve seen the good side of things, and I’ve seen the bad side of things,”  Perez said through translator Jordan Buckley, a member of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.

Leonel Perez, a farmworker and a member of the CIW, said the group has been organizing the march through Columbus since February. The march will feature floats created by OSU students of the Student/Farmworker Alliance as well as floats created by members of the CIW. Perez said this march excites him and the groups involved as they have won many campaigns in the past and are hoping to win this one as well.

“We want to demonstrate in front of the company Wendy’s that we possess dignity,” Leonel said through translator Buckley. “And that’s what we are looking for: recognition of our dignity as well as justice for the farmworkers.”

The Student/Farmworker Alliance is demanding the university ends its contract with Wendy’s so that they will join the Fair Food Program and adhere to its standards for tomato pickers. The program has added 14 major corporations to its program, including McDonald’s, Burger King, Chipotle and Wal-Mart, but it hasn’t convinced Wendy’s to join.

OSU’s contract with Wendy’s, which leases a location at the Wexner Medical Center, states the school will work to find “a resolution of the concerns of the Student Farmworkers Alliance regarding the procurement of tomatoes for the operation of Tenant’s business at the Premise that is satisfactory to Landlord in its sole discretion.”

Previously, the university set up a meeting between Wendy’s and the Student Farmworkers Alliance, but the group declined to meet, citing a message posted to Wendy’s website dating from 2013. In that statement, which has since been updated and changed, Wendy’s said it was being targeted by CIW and that the restaurant should only have to negotiate directly with the supplier, not a third-party organization like CIW.

The Fair Food Program, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers — a workers’ rights organization — and the Alliance for Fair Food work together to ensure the protection of rights and wages for farmers and farmworkers in Immokalee, Florida, according to their websites. Unlike McDonald’s and Burger King, for example, which buy tomatoes from farms in Florida that are protected by the Fair Food Program’s code of conduct, Wendy’s gets its tomatoes from Mexico.

In addition to the march on Sunday, CIW will be hosting a vigil outside of the Wendy’s headquarters in nearby Dublin, Ohio, on Friday, where farmworkers from Florida will be joining members in Columbus at 3:30 p.m. Additionally, on Saturday, a conference will be held at Summit on 16th United Methodist Church at 10 a.m. with different human rights organizations attending conducting educational workshops. The conference will end around 10 p.m. with musical performances including performances from the Peace Poets, a spoken word group from New York, and Olmeca, a hip-hop artist from California. 

The Return to Human Rights tour began March 16 and runs until March 29, with stops in 13 different cities. Following the stop in Columbus, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in conjunction with the Alliance for Fair Food will end the tour with a vigil in Tampa, Florida, according to a press release from the CIW.