This article was originally published in the Washington Square News.
April 6, 2018
Earlier tonight, nine students and one NYU alumnus marched from the Kimmel Center for University Life to the Wendy’s on Broadway to protest the company’s treatment of its employees and its refusal to join the Fair Food Agreement.
According to the Huff Post, Wendy’s has maintained that its own self-checking system prevents abuse and upholds standards for employees and suppliers. Heidi Schauer, a Wendy’s spokeswoman, told the Huff Post the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ call to action against Wendy’s is an attempt to exploit the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements for its own interests.
Today’s student protest against Wendy’s was part of a larger National Day of Action created by the CIW, an organization that fights for worker-based human rights in the fields of human trafficking, gender-based violence and social responsibility. The CIW created the Fair Food Agreement, which requires companies that sign on to only work with suppliers that treat and pay their laborers fairly. Farmworkers have been asking Wendy’s to join the Fair Food Program since January 2013.
NYU’s chapter of the Peer Health Exchange — an organization that provides health education to underserved schools — worked with the CIW to lead a student-based protest of Wendy’s and deliver a letter explaining their grievances. The group was especially concerned about the exploitation of farm laborers who are women of color; they planned to deliver a red dot as part of the Red Dot Foundation’s placement of red dots on maps to signify places with any level of sexual harassment.
During NYU PHE’s protest, 10 people met in the lobby of Kimmel, signs in hand, and marched through Washington Square Park and over to the Wendy’s on Broadway. They shouted chants such as “Get up, get down, fair food has come to town” and “The people, united, will never be defeated.”
Once the group arrived at Wendy’s, they stood outside the restaurant and chanted as passersby watched. NYU PHE Co-Coordinator Dennis Hilgendorf and Leadership Council member Helena Keown went inside to deliver the red dot and letter to the store manager in hopes that it would be passed along to the corporate level.
But the store manager refused to accept it.
“The manager basically said he can’t accept anything because there’s no solicitation, which isn’t true,” Hilgendorf, a GPH senior, said. “We’re just asking him to be an ally and to take our letter and pass it on to anyone else who’s higher up above him.”
Hilgendorf also said that the protestors made it clear they were not trying to create any animosity between the protesters and the physical Wendy’s store itself but that they were trying to get a message across to higher-ups that farm laborers needed to be treated better.
“We asked to share our message with him, and he basically said he didn’t care to know what we stood for,” Keown, a CAS senior, said. “He told us that we were forcing him to speak with [us] — which we were not — and asked us to leave.”
However, the group continued to protest. Two policemen were called to the scene by the Wendy’s manager, but after a brief conversation with him, they returned to their vehicle outside the restaurant. Some passersby took photos and asked students what they were protesting.
The group intentionally chose to protest in April because April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. NYU PHE members said they felt it was important to join the protest because they wanted to practice allyship both in and out of the classrooms where they volunteer.
“We as an organization are focused on teaching health education to under resourced high schools in New York City, and so in representing that demographic, or attempting to best represent that demographic, it’s also important for our volunteers to have understanding of the implications of what being an ally in the classroom means but also outside of the classroom,” Hilgendorf said.
NYU PHE Co-Diversity Director and CAS senior Ruth Rizkalla hopes that at the very least, Wendy’s starts listening to them after the protest.
“At the end of the day, we’ve got to support our women of color,” Rizkalla said. “If their voices are being silenced and if they’re not being heard, then we’re gonna be their voices for them. We’re gonna make sure that they’re being treated properly and that they’re gonna get the respect they need, and that Wendy’s knows that we’re not gonna stand for that just because they see them as lesser human beings.”