New Orleans The Food Chain Workers’ Alliance released an updated state of the industry report entitled “No Piece of the Pie,” and it’s not just sobering, it’s depressing, because even as employment is soaring in this critical industry, the workers are falling farther and farther behind. There is no way to separate the precariousness of the workforce from any final conclusions about food quality and safety.
The report’s executive summary speaks for itself and includes the following findings:
· Fourteen percent of the nation’s workforce is employed in the food chain, over one in seven of all workers in the U.S. The number of food chain workers grew by 13 percent from 2010 to 2016.
· The food chain pays the lowest hourly median wage to frontline workers compared to workers in all other industries. The annual median wage for food chain workers is $16,000 and the hourly median wage is $10, well below the median wages across all industries of $36,468 and $17.53.
· Thirteen percent of all food workers, nearly 2.8 million workers, relied on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits (food stamps) to feed their household in 2016.
· Eight-two percent of food chain workers are in frontline positions with few opportunities at the top.
· For every dollar earned by white men working in the food chain, Latino men earn 76 cents, Black men 60 cents, Asian men 81 cents, and Native men 44 cents.1 White women earn less than half of their white male counterparts, at 47 cents to every dollar. Women of color face both a racial and a gender penalty: Black women earn 42 cents, Latina women 45 cents, Asian women 58 cents, and Native women 36 cents for every dollar earned by white men.
· Injuries are up and union protection is down.
The Los Angeles-based alliance and the cooperative that produced the report make the following recommendations for policymakers while also recommending action by consumers.
· Increase the minimum wage and abolish the tipped wage and piece rate pay system.
· Provide affordable healthcare for all workers.
· Provide paid sick leave enabling workers to stay home from work when they are unhealthy.
· Pass anti-wage theft legislation with real teeth and enforcement.
· Guarantee the right to organize and prevent retaliation on the job around issues such as health and safety.
For consumers, here are some of their suggestions:
· Support workplace justice campaigns and union drives
· Support food workers by purchasing products from companies that are fair trade, union-made, or have high labor standards.
· Call on policymakers to support pro-worker legislation.
· Educate one another and discuss food worker issues in your daily lives, especially in conversations around local, organic, and sustainable food.
The combination of all of these things could change the world for workers in the food chain from production to processing to serving. Something that affects 21 million workers is worth action now.