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Square burgers but not a square deal

40 Big Tent participants picket Wendy’s over labor standards, wages

August 5, 2013

Protest at Wendy's

Presbyterian protesters picket Wendy's during the Big Tent to demand better working conditions for Florida tomato pickers who supply the fast-food chain. —Bethany Daily

LOUISVILLE

Against a background of chants, signs and supportive car honks from passersby, about 40 Presbyterians demonstrated in front of a Wendy’s restaurant here, demanding that the fast-food chain sign onto the Fair Food Program to establish more humane farm labor standards and fairer wages for farmworkers in its tomato suppliers’ operations.

Most of the participants were here for Big Tent, an Aug. 1-3 celebration of Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) mission and ministry organized around the theme “Putting God’s First Things First.”  It’s composed of 10 national Presbyterian conferences, more than 160 workshops and special events to mark the 30th anniversary of the formation of the PC(USA) and the 25th anniversary of the opening of the Presbyterian Center.

The witness at Wendy’s was part of the Compassion, Peace and Justice Conference — called Turning the Tables — at Big Tent.

“Your burgers may be square, but your food ain’t fair!” the participants chanted. “Get up, get down, fair food has come to town!”

“We’re letting people in the streets of Louisville know that the Presbyterian Church won’t stand for unfair food,” said the Rev. Noelle Damico, associate for Fair Food in the Presbyterian Hunger Program.

Eleven corporations, including McDonald’s, Burger King and Yum! Brands ― owner of Taco Bell and KFC ― have signed agreements. Wendy’s is the only one of the nation’s top five fast food chains that has not committed.

The PC(USA) partners with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a Florida worker-based human rights organization, in this work.  

The PC(USA) is active in the Campaign for Fair Food, a collaborative effort with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW).

“We’ve made history together. The structure of the Florida tomato-growing industry has changed,” Damico said, adding that 90 percent of Florida tomato growers are part of the Fair Food Program. “The question is, what are the forces that can push us back? We’ve changed history, now we’re changing the future.”

The groups have demonstrated their strength in numbers and purchasing power, said Lucas Benitez, a co-founder of CIW.

“Neither cold nor heat nor wind will deter this movement,” he said.

A small delegation of participants entered Wendy’s at the end of the march to present a letter to the manager on duty. When they came back out, they reported that the manager had been instructed to not take any letters. But he did place a call to his regional manager, who then contacted Wendy’s headquarters in Ohio.

The Rev. Chris Lieberman, pastor of Bardstown Road Presbyterian Church here — which is down the road from the Wendy’s restaurant — agreed to keep the letter and bring it to other Wendy’s locations in town. He will report back to the Presbyterian Hunger Program about the feedback he receives.

“We pray that God will make a way where there has been no way,” Damico said. “That Wendy’s may hear and respond and join the fair food movement. We pray these things because God is able.”

  1. I wonder if supporting the the coalition of Immokalee Workers is too narrow a focus now? Following the fair wage strikes this past summer perhaps our congregations could be encouraged to choose other meals until fast food restaurants decide to pay living wages to their employees. We, as consumers, will also have to be willing to pay more than $1 for a burger, but perhaps, as Christians, we can make that choice as a part of a lifestyle consistent with our beliefs.

    by Rev. Amy L. Snow

    October 10, 2013

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