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Farmworker protest takes aim at part-time Palm Beacher


About 50 people protested outside a West Palm Beach fast-food chain restaurant Sunday in a farm labor dispute that brushes Palm Beach as it stretches from the fields of Immokalee to the steel towers of New York and deep into Mexico.

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers organized Sunday’s protest outside a Wendy’s restaurant to draw attention to the company’s refusal to join the coalition’s Fair Food Program, which aims to protect farmworkers’ from human rights abuses.

The protest location near the corner of Hank Aaron Drive and Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard was strategically chosen. It is the closest restaurant to the $82 million oceanfront Palm Beach mansion of Nelson Peltz, chairman of Wendy’s board of directors.

Last week, about 250 coalition protesters marched to Peltz’s New York offices.

“He has a lot of power, that’s why we’ve been focusing on him,” said Patricia Cipollitti, national co-coordinator for the Alliance for Fair Food. “If he says something should happen, it will.”

Heidi Schauer, a spokeswoman for Wendy’s, said in an email Sunday that the coalition’s nationwide protests are staged events “that show it objects to the fact that we don’t pay fees to their organization.”

“This group orchestrates negative publicity events and distributes misleading information about our company and our suppliers,” Schauer said.

But Silvia Perez, who picked tomatoes for 15 years in Immokalee fields, said before the coalition created the Fair Food Program and got 14 companies to support it, many workers could not report abuses without fear of retaliation and suffered without breaks, shade or water.

The program requires companies to buy from suppliers that follow the Fair Food Code of Conduct, which outlines appropriate working standards, monitoring and enforcement.

McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway and Taco Bell have agreed to the Fair Food Program.

“Women can work free of sexual harassment and are more free to speak up and speak out,” Perez said through an interpreter. “They have the right to complain without retaliation.”

Part of the coalition’s concerns is that Wendy’s is buying from a supplier in Mexico that it says is known to have worker abuse complaints against it.

A blog on Wendy’s website says the Ohio-based company has its own code of conduct that “requires suppliers for tomatoes and everything else we buy to adhere to high standards for integrity and business practices.”

Perez called the code of conduct used by Wendy’s “an illusion.”

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