With the renovation of the Michigan Union underway, students and faculty will decide on which three vendors will move into the space when it reopens in the winter of 2020. Members of the University of Michigan community expressed concern regarding the potential of Wendy’s moving back into the building due to employee labor conditions.
Washtenaw Solidarity with Farmworkers, a community and student-based group, has been lobbying the administration and the Central Student Government to ban Wendy’s from coming back to campus until the fast-food establishment has signed the Fair Food Program.
The Fair Food Program is a partnership between farmworkers and food distribution companies to ensure agricultural workers have access to adequate working conditions and fair wages. Fourteen companies have signed on, including large grocery distributors such as Walmart and Whole Foods Market and fast food chains such as Burger King, McDonald’s and Subway.
Rackham student Kimberly Daley has led the on-campus effort to ensure Wendy’s will not be put in the basement of the Union. Daley believes it’s likely Wendy’s submitted a bid for the Union based on their widespread representation on college campuses. She emphasized Wendy’s lack of transparency regarding the Fair Food Program.
“Wendy’s hasn’t signed on (to the agreement) and they have been avoiding the sign on process,” Daley said. “They moved all of their purchases of tomatoes to Mexico to avoid it, and then they moved it all back to greenhouses in the U.S. and none of those have actually good working conditions.”
Two Wendy’s restaurants previously resided in the Union and in the Michigan League before their contracts expired. She began the process by meeting with Susan Pile, the Union administrator at the time, and the Office of Procurement, but quickly became frustrated with their lack of response.
“Since 2015-2016, I’ve been in contact with administration and University to either cut the contract with Wendy’s or make sure that they couldn’t come back to campus after the contract expired,” Daley said. “Both of them told me there was nothing they could do and they couldn’t cut the contract with Wendy’s because they needed the money. And for procurement, said they can’t legally make rules, supposedly, about who can or cannot submit bid to be vendors at the University.”
In October, Daley discovered the Michigan Union and Office of Procurement have begun the process of accepting bids for vendors. Daley said she was concerned because of the Union’s lack of transparency regarding the bids.
Kim Broekhuizen, University Public Affairs spokeswoman, described the bidding process, which lasted from Oct. 24 to Dec. 31. Broekhuizen expects final selections to be made “soon”.
“The University is engaged in a competitive bid process for thee spots in the Michigan Union for fast food-casual restaurants,” the Broekhuizen wrote. “A team comprised of U-M students as well as employees from Procurement Services, University Unions and Auxiliary Services is currently evaluating the bids and will likely make selections for the three spots in the next few months.”
Daley said she wants more information and greater student involvement in the project.
“It is a completely hidden process,” Daley said. “So there is no feedback being accepted from the community or students so it is very difficult to tell people what you think; they won’t even tell anybody if Wendy’s submitted a bid.”
Daley emphasized the importance of community interaction in deciding which organizations should be placed in the building.
“The Union is going through this bidding process with no mechanism of getting feedback,” Daley said. “And also not communicating with most of the student body and most of the community about which corporations to work with to sell students things and sell people things in the Union.”
The Michigan Union Board of Representatives is a student organization working with Union administrators consulting on various aspects of the renovation. One of the students sits on the Selection Committee for the vendors, but the members of the committee are not known.
“At least one of these students sit on this board, but I don’t think this is an accurate representation of the student body and the community,” Daley said.
Daley emphasized the importance of student voices speaking out against Wendy’s coming to U-M.
“We are basically trying to pressure this corporation who has a lot of power in the amount of money they spend on produce to be able to put pressure to make working conditions for farmworkers in the United state better,” Daley said.
Daley said the community cannot know who submitted bids by the Dec. 31 deadline without submitting a Freedom Of Information Act request. The organization has made a motion to the Michigan Board of Representatives and is working with CSG to create a resolution to ban Wendy’s from campus.
With the University as one of the largest employers in Michigan, the University’s actions can impact every resident. As a result, Daley said, the decision of vendors should be chosen transparently with community feedback.
“Students spend thousands of dollars on tuition and if the University is going to be making money on vendors in the basement of the Union, then members of the community and the Michigan Family should have a say in what goes there.” Daley said. “(Vendors) should fall in line with our values as a community and to not have that ability to share or even comment or provide feedback at all, is not transparent and I think that’s really problematic because the power the University holds over the community.”
Rather than signing on to the Fair Food Program, Wendy’s has created their own code of conduct meant to be equal to the Fair Food Program. According to Daley, this code is not mandatory and only suggested in the United States and Canada.
“Wendy’s still purchases some amount of tomatoes from Mexico and there is no legal ground for them to enforce any of their code of conduct,” Daley said. “There are reports every year to show the changes that have been made in the field based on the program and there isn’t anything that Wendy’s has provided at all about their non-mandatory code of conduct.”
In response to The Daily, Wendy’s communication representative Heidi Schauer released a statement saying the former restaurant on campus was independently owned and will not be renewing their lease.
“The Wendy’s restaurant on campus was independently owned and operated by a franchisee,” the Schauer wrote. “As a brand we were happy to have been part of the University of Michigan community, but I understand that our franchisee’s lease expired when the school remodeled the building in which the restaurant was housed, and they made the decision not to pursue a new lease.”
Schauer emphasized the company’s commitment to responsible business practices.
“We will continue to work to bring greater transparency to our supply chain practices and only the best, highest quality products to our customers.”