DataCenter, Food Chain Workers Alliance (FCWA), and Restaurant Opportunities Center United (ROC) are excited to release a new report: The Hands That Feed Us: Challenges and Opportunities for Workers Along the Food Chain. The report looks at wages and working conditions of workers across the entire food chain – a sector that employs 20 million people in the U.S. (that’s one-sixth of the nation’s work force!).
According to the report, there are some good jobs in the food system (13.5% of workers surveyed earn livable wages), but the vast majority are incredibly low-wage, with little or no access to paid sick days and health benefits. More than 86 percent of workers reported earning subminimum, poverty, and low wages, resulting in a sad irony: food workers face higher levels of food insecurity, or the inability to afford to eat, than the rest of the U.S. workforce.
In addition to low pay, job mobility is limited, and discrimination and segregation concentrate people of color and immigrants in the lowest-paying positions.
Farmworker Profile: Matye Beaucecot
Matye Beaucecot was born in Haiti. He immigrated to the United States in 1992, seeking political asylum after the coup that removed President Jean Bertrand Aristide from power in 1991. When Matye arrived in the United States, he began working in the tomato fields of Immokalee, Florida. He worked on the fields for one year and then worked in the produce packinghouses for five years. Matye says that, on an ordinary day, “[we] start at 4:00 AM and then a bus picks us up between 6-8am. If it rains, [we] must wait for it to stop.” He earned four dollars an hour and generally worked 10 to 12-hour days. If the farmworkers were picked up by the bus and were unable to work because of the rain, they were not paid for the day. While working in the fields, Matye reports that workers were not allowed to eat or drink any water.
To support the project, DataCenter conducted surveyor and interviewer trainings for alliance members. The alliance was able to collect 629 surveys of food chain workers and conduct 47 interviews with food employers across the US. Once the data was collected, DataCenter facilitated data analysis trainings with 23 alliance members. In these workshops, workers themselves were able to establish which report findings would be used for consumer, employer, and policymaker recommendations.
What can you do as a consumer to support food chain workers across the country?
- Support responsible food system employers who are providing livable wages, benefits, and advancement opportunities for all workers, and who provide sustainable food.
- Speak to employers with every purchase of food or restaurant visit and let them know consumers care about livable wages, benefits, and opportunities for people of color, women, and immigrants to advance in the food system.
- Where workers have filed legal charges or have a campaign against exploitation in food enterprises, call the company to let them know that they will not support such illegal practices.
- Let policymakers know that consumers will not tolerate poverty wages, lack of basic health benefits, including paid sick days, and wage theft in the food system.
- Help educate other consumers and food justice advocates about the need to include sustainable working conditions for food workers within the definition of sustainable food.
To view the full report or the executive summary (also in Spanish), click the links below.
Thanks to FCWA for providing some of the content for this page.