From field to fork, the feeders are fed up … and organizing

 

Wendy’s shareholders met in New York this week. Shockingly, they didn’t meet at a Wendy’s but rather at a posh hotel somewhere in midtown Manhattan. They were met by farmworkers, “convened” by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW). The CIW Fair Food Program has organized and lobbied, with great success, for fast-food chains to pay an additional cent for every pound of tomatoes, which would double field workers’ salaries. Pretty much all the chains have signed on — McDonald’s, Subway, Burger King and Taco Bell. In 2005, Taco Bell led the way on signing, under the leadership of their CEO at the time, Emil Brolick. Of the majors, only Wendy’s is an outlier. Guess who’s the current CEO of Wendy’s. You guessed right: Emil Brolick. Irony? Farce? Tragedy? No, it’s just business as usual.

The farmworkers were not the only workers on the streets and in the corridors of the Wendy’s convocation. Local fast-food workers, organized by Fast Food Forward, also showed up and threw down. Fast Food Forward recently documented that wage theft in the fast-food industry is the hidden crime wave of the day. According to their study, 84% of fast-food workers had experienced one wage theft in the past year. Two-thirds had experienced wage theft twice in the past year. Almost half had experienced wage theft three or more times in the past year.

And who are these workers? Overwhelmingly people of color, largely women. Tabitha Verges works at a Burger King in Harlem and went on strike last month. In a recent interview, Tabitha Verges explained, “I do it all. I do three or four jobs. I take orders, I make the orders. I work the cash register. I say, ‘Have a good day.’ I do the inventory. I take out the trash. I get down and scrub the floor. I don’t think $7.25 is nearly enough.”

Elsewhere Tabitha Verges elaborated: “I’m tired of being taken advantage of, working hard doing a three or four person job when there should be other employees there doing the job with us… iIm fed up. I’m so fed up. It’s not right for us to be busting our hump everyday making $7.25 an hour. I myself make $120 a week. I have to provide myself with food, clothes, a roof over my head. My rent is over $700 a month. I’m backed up on my bills. I have to pay Con Edison. I don’t have enough to even survive for the basic necessities in my household… I’m working full time. It’s not right and it’s unfair.”

It’s not right and it’s unfair. What are the good people of Wendy’s waiting for, apart from dessert and drinks after the speeches? From field to fork, the feeders of the United States are fed up. They’re fed up with the common sense that accepts the not-right and the unfair. They’re fed up with the racism, the sexism, the slave wages, the daily abuses. They are tired and fed up with the assaults on personal and individual dignity, on family and community, the assaults on humanity. That’s the reason fast-food workers on strike carried signs that read, “I AM A MAN” and “I AM A WOMAN.” Tabitha Verges is fed up. All the Tabitha Verges’ are fed up. The Burger Kings and the Wendy’s better watch out.

 

(Photo Credit: The Nation / AP / Mary Altaffer)

 

About Dan Moshenberg

Dan Moshenberg is an organizer educator who has worked with various social movements in the United States and South Africa. Find him on Twitter at @danwibg.