Ohio State renewed its contract with Columbus-based fast-food chain Wendy’s, despite years of student protest alongside the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a worker-based human rights organization that aims to improve working conditions for farm workers.
The renewed lease will keep Wendy’s at its Wexner Medical Center location for three more years. OSU recently extended the company’s interim lease an additional two months, which was less-than coincidental to student-protesters and members of the CIW.
In a statement released by the CIW and OSU Students, a freedom of information request shined light on correspondence between university officials and Wendy’s leading up to the lease renewal.
“…It was OSU’s decision to extend the interim lease an additional two months (from four to six months), pushing its expiration, and the announcement of the administration’s decision on renewal, well beyond the end of the school calendar,” the statement said.
The university had previously promised that it would not renew Wendy’s lease until the company resolved any concerns students had with its labor practices. The fast-food chain, however, has not signed on to join the Fair Food Program, a program which works to ensure tomato pickers receive appropriate treatment — a matter that students and workers have taken issue with.
In an email sent to a student involved with CIW on May 25 and obtained by The Lantern, Jay Kasey, OSU’s senior vice president, said the new three-year deal includes a new code of conduct was developed to “ensure that workers picking tomatoes are doing so under safe and appropriate conditions.”
He said the new code, which was developed with OSU, will extend to all of the fast-food companies produce suppliers throughout the U.S. and Canada.
“We will have the ability to verify adherence to the code with onsite inspections at any time of our choosing,” Kasey said.
The email to student activists came one week after OSU Executive Vice President and Provost Bruce McPheron sent a letter to Wendy’s CEO Todd Penegor, which summarized the findings of the university’s review into the fast-food-chain’s tomato procurement.
“Our assessment found that Wendy’s supplier Code of Conduct, revised March 1, 2017, meets or exceeds requirements for assurance that our lessees actively support university values in that realm,” McPheron wrote in the letter.
Ben Wibking, a graduate student in astronomy and member of the Student Farmworker Alliance, said Mexico’s exclusion from the email is suspect. He said in the statement Mexico is “where Wendy’s purchases a significant number of their tomatoes and where worker abuses are among the most deplorable.”
Students and members of the CIW have protested the Wendy’s lease for three years. This year they have held protests at Board of Trustees meetings, created a Valentine’s Day themed protest and carried out a seven-day hunger strike.
“…The administration thinks they can quietly renew the contract without pushback from the students, farmworkers, faith leaders and consumers who are part of a nationwide Wendy’s boycott,” said Alex Hoey, a third-year in geography, in the statement. “But our movement is stronger than ever, and grows by the day. We will continue our campaign until OSU cuts the contract and Wendy’s joins the Fair Food Program.”
The CIW created the Fair Food Program in 2011. According to its website, the group conducts worker-to-worker education sessions held at labor sites to set forth a code of conduct; runs regular audits and investigates complaints; and ensures that participating buyers in the program pay a premium which is passed on to workers as a bonus.
A public records request for the contract between OSU and Wendy’s was not completed prior to this article’s publication.
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