Students from the Hebrew School of Bnai Keshet in Montclair are protesting the alleged treatment of workers in the fields who pick the tomatoes used in Wendy’s products.
On April 28, 12-year-old Elliott Morley presented the manager of Wendy’s in Bloomfield a letter signed by children in the Hebrew School stating their intention to boycott Wendy’s until the corporation signs on to the Fair Food Program of the Coalition of Immokkalee Workers. Sixty-five of the Hebrew School’s children in grades three through six signed the letter.

According to Elliot’s mother Carol Schlitt, Wendy’s is the only fast-food corporation not participating in the Fair Food Program.

“Copies of these letters will also be sent to Nelson Peltz, who is the chair of the board of Wendy’s and who is Jewish,” Schlitt said. “Wendy’s is the only fast food company that has refused to sign on to this program and which decided to buy tomatoes from Mexico rather than pay decent wages and provide better working conditions to workers in Florida.”

The Alliance for Fast Food, a group of faith leaders, organized a nation-wide campaign in January in an attempt to get Wendy’s to use the Coalition of Immokkalee Workers for their tomatoes.

In December 1997, six farmworkers in Immokalee, Florida, made the decision to stop eating until the growers who owned the farms on which they toiled would hear their concerns. Low wages, verbal and physical violence, sexual abuse, and even forced labor plagued Florida tomato fields, and the workers who picked in those fields demanded better conditions. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ members’ hunger strike lasted 30 days, and only ended when former President Jimmy Carter and Bishop John Nevins of the Catholic Diocese of Venice intervened to call for a dialogue with growers, on the condition that the workers would break their fast.

In January 1998, at a Catholic mass with over 800 people in attendance, they did.

“Incredible progress has been made since 1998 through the CIW’s Presidential Medal-winning Fair Food Program, a groundbreaking partnership among farmworkers, Florida tomato growers, and major food retailers that has transformed the tomato industry in seven states along the East Coast,” states the Alliance for Fast Food’s web site. “But outside of the protections of the Program, wages are still stagnant and hundreds of thousands of workers are still vulnerable to human rights abuses. We witness, especially, the ongoing refusal of Wendy’s, the last major fast food holdout. Wendy’s has unconscionably chosen to shift purchases away from participating Fair Food Program farms in Florida to Mexican fields rife with endemic and unchecked abuse.”