Today, the Food Chain Workers Alliance released a new report, The Hands That Feed Us: Challenges and Opportunities for Workers Along the Food Chain. The report details “the state of the food chain worker,” captures the experiences of workers, and looks towards the future of workers along the food chain. FCWA has chosen the occasion of its one-day Food Justice and Food Worker conference to release the groundbreaking document.
Amidst the feverish work of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, USDA, to dilute the most critical portions of a soon-to-be re-authorized Farm Bill, this statistically significant research supports the realities food chain workers have lived for decades.
Utilizing data collected from nearly 700 workers across the country, the report focuses on five food sectors including farm workers, slaughterhouse and other processing facilities workers, warehouse workers, grocery store workers, and restaurant and food service workers. It identifies food system stakeholders ─workers, consumers, and employers─ and examines wages, working conditions, and opportunities for worker advancement while identifying strategies for consumers and employers to work together to improve the future of food workers.
Recently, the Food and Safety Inspection Service, FSIS, proposed to increase the production or “line speeds” at poultry plants across the country; however, line speeds are already dangerously fast. The proposed change would allow some plants to move from a maximum of 70 to 140 birds per minute to a maximum of 175, which would put at risk both food worker and consumer health and safety. Working conditions for food workers are consistently in violation of health and safety codes, while workers endure long hours without breaks and lack health benefits.
Workers also report being threatened with retaliation should these violations be reported to Office of Occupation Health and Safety Administration, OSHA, the government office for oversight and enforcement of worker safety.
The report highlights worker safety and consumer safety as well as the need for significant improvements in the food industry. Ultimately, the report puts food worker experiences under the microscope and sheds a much needed light on the plight of workers along the food chain ─ food workers are victims of human rights violations.
The Center for New Community is committed to addressing the ongoing injustices in the food system. We believe it is critical to 1) address the serious health and safety risks imposed upon workers in the food system, including providing workers with adequate rest breaks; and 2) support responsible food system employers who are providing livable wages, benefits, and advancement opportunities for all workers, and who provide sustainable food.
We commend the workers, organizers, activists, and allies who courageously present their stories, hopes, and vision for a food system that prioritizes both food worker safety and dignity and consumer safety above profits and industrialized food production.