A group of about 20 Ohio State students will begin a week-long fast on Monday to show solidarity with farm workers. They say the university went back on its word by extending their lease with Dublin-based Wendy's, which is one of the few major fast food chains that's held out of joining a national program that works to prevent abuse of U.S. farm workers.
In 2015, Ohio State's administration wrote in their lease with Wendy’s that if the company did not improve their labor practices to the satisfaction of the Student Farm Worker Alliance, the university would not renew the lease for a location inside the Wexner Medical Center.
Since then, Wendy’s has declined to join a farm worker-led organization, the Fair Food Program. Instead, the corporation started sourcing tomatoes from other growers, including a farm in Mexico. Students say that farm has a documented history of labor abuse and human rights violations.
In December, Ohio State extended the lease with Wendy’s for another six months anyway.
Alex Hoey, a student participating in the fast, says the university went back on its word.
“We fast not only to urge Wendy’s to join the Fair Food Program but to also urge OSU to cut their contract with Wendy’s," Hoey says.
Monday kicks off a week-long action planned by the Student Farm Worker Alliance. Hundreds of individuals from the Coalition of Immokolee Workers, the group of laborers that developed the Fair Food Program, will travel to Columbus to hold a vigil outside Wendy's headquarters on Friday and then take part in a parade on Sunday.
Hoey says the student group will abstain from eating for the next week as they protest outside the Ohio State administration office. And, instead of going to lunch, the student group will host teach-ins lead by a number of local non-profit organizations.
"We're very frustrated," Hoey says. "We definitely feel like OSU is stalling. So we are going to have a presence outside of the [Bricker] building to say we will not go away. You can starve our bodies, but you can never starve our movement."
University officials says they're committed to working on this issue and they don't condone any potentially harmful actions that could jeopardize the health of the students.
In an earlier statement, officials said the choice to extend their lease with Wendy's was to "allow adequate time for discussions to take place." The university invited students to meet with Wendy's to talk about the matter.
The student group, however, declined, citing Wendy's refusal to join the Fair Food Program.
"We've heard Wendy's opposition to the Fair Food Program loud and clear and it is not useful to just hear them explain their opposition to farm worker rights once again," the statement read.
Santiago Perez, a member of CIW, says major companies like Walmart and McDonald's already participate in the Fair Food Program, which has been recognized by the United Nations for its success in preventing human rights and labor rights violations.
"We have a table, and there's an empty seat for Wendy's," Perez says. "Whenever they'd like, we can sit down and discuss this."
Perez says he and the other workers are grateful for their alliance with the students at Ohio State. Perez says, a nationwide collaboration with students forced 25 Taco Bell restaurants from school campuses until the company was pressured to join the Fair Food Program.
"This means that we're not alone," Perez says. "They're all consumers and they see that the worker is a person, not a machine."