Coalition of Immokalee Workers
[Feb., 2019] After years of building their case to kick Wendy’s off campus, students at the University of Michigan (UM) have won their battle to “Boot the Braids” until the fast-food giant joins the Fair Food Program. The move turned a planned demonstration on the UM campus into a celebration, and sent an unmistakable message to the administrations at other schools where students are demanding that Wendy’s put human rights on the menu, or take its business elsewhere.
With the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) human rights tour just weeks away, a dramatic wave of support for the Fair Food Program surged across the UM community this past month, marked by skyrocketing support for a student petition, overwhelming backing from the Student Government for a strongly-worded resolution, and a powerful statement, quoted above, from the Michigan Union Board of Representatives (which, as it happens, plays a key role in choosing vendors for the university’s massive student union). Even the city of Ann Arbor got in on the action with an unequivocal resolution by the City Council.
Kimberly Daley, a postdoctoral fellow in the School of Public Health at the University of Michigan and member of the Washtenaw Solidarity with Farmworkers group that has taken the lead on the Boot the Braids Campaign, sums up the sentiment on campus in the wake of this momentous decision, with a statement on behalf of the student movement there:
“As influential public institutions, our universities have a responsibility to maintain a clear and unwavering moral standard in their business relationships. Wendy’s, as the sole fast-food company that has yet to join the Fair Food Program, has refused to meet that standard. Instead of cheap “4 for $4” meals, as students, we need to see human rights on the menu. Until then, students, university officials and local leaders alike in Ann Arbor have declared that Wendy’s is not welcome on our campus.”
Michiganders have made one thing abundantly clear: Wendy’s has worn out its welcome in Ann Arbor, and will most certainly not be invited back until it cleans up its act and joins the Fair Food Program like the rest of the fast-food industry giants. Now the attention of the Fair Food Nation turns to the other universities on the tour—principal among them UM’s key rival just a few hours away, Ohio State University—contemplating whether to continue doing business with a company as deeply compromised as Wendy’s.
How we got here…
The exciting news at the University of Michigan unfolded over the course of a dramatic two weeks, but it was the culmination of more than four years of hard organizing work by students like Kim and community members with Washtenaw Solidarity with Farmworkers.
The pressure on UM to end its business relationship with Wendy’s started to build in late 2017, with the release of a report—commissioned by UM’s own Advisory Committee on Labor Standards and Human Rights—that aimed to accomplish the following mission:
“Identify the labor standards and human rights issues within these two categories; identify external partners to assist the university; contact universities who share similar perspectives and are willing to work with UM; and, present feasible pathways for improving labor standards in these two categories that outlines necessary tasks and cost.”
The study’s conclusion? “The Fair Food Program is the most comprehensive social responsibility program in the US” and the best thing that the University of Michigan could do in order to improve labor standards would be to “become a signatory to the Fair Food Program.”
Following the study’s publication, UM students continued organizing a growing campus movement calling on the University administration to honor the Advisory Committee’s conclusions and stand behind the Fair Food Program. And the movement didn’t confine itself to the four corners of the campus, as student leaders began calling on the broader community of Ann Arbor to join them in boycotting the final fast food holdout.
Finally, on the first of February, news broke of the campaign’s long-awaited success. In an article on UM’s news hub, mlive.com, the announcement came that Wendy’s would indeed not be returning to campus.
To start or join a Boot the Braids campaign on your campus until Wendy’s joins the Fair Food Campaign; or to help in your community, contact the Student/Farmworker Alliance or http://www.boycott-wendys.org for more information.