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800 protesters march on Wendy's headquarters for farm worker rights

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In a 10-city tour that ends on March 15 at the home base of Publix in Lakeland, Florida, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) stopped in Dublin, Ohio yesterday to call on Wendy's to join its Fair Food Program.

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Nearly 800 farm workers, students, faith leaders, and others marched two miles through the streets of Dublin to the Wendy's flagship store near its corporate headquarters. Supporters traveled from Cleveland, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, New York, Chicago, Denver, and Immokalee, Florida to join the march.

"Wendy's should be ashamed of the fact that they're opening up modern restaurants when they haven't let go of the modern-day slavery of today with the farm workers," said CIW member Lupe Gonzalo to the crowd at the end of the march. "We're here to tell Wendy's that it's not fair that they are getting richer on the backs of us workers."

So far 12 large food corporations — most recently Walmart — have signed agreements with the CIW to support a living wage for Florida farm workers who harvest the tomatoes they sell. The CIW's program defines a code of conduct for the growers who employ the workers, including safe working conditions and zero tolerance for sexual harassment and forced labor. The code of conduct is independently monitored by the Fair Food Standards Council.

Wendy's and Publix have refused to sign agreements with the CIW, maintaining that their own monitoring of their supply chain is sufficient to protect farm worker rights.

Rev. Noelle Damico of the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative, who has supported the CIW since its early days, directed her words to Wendy's CEO Emil Brolick: "Mr. Brolick, we are here invite you to finish what you helped start."

Brolick was CEO of Taco Bell (Yum Brands) in 2005 when it was the first corporation to sign an agreement with the CIW.

"We believe that you are man of your word," Rev. Damico said. "When you said upon signing that agreement that other corporations besides Taco Bell needed to step forward and participate to make these changes real, that you meant it. Mr. Brolick, keep your promise to the farm workers, and keep your promise to your customers."

Through the Fair Food Program, over $11 million has been paid by participating food retailers to growers, who have passed it on to farm workers in improved wages. "If the workers are paid better and have better conditions it's going to make the growers more productive," said Fair Food author Oran Hesterman on grist.org.

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