By Chris Moulton
As a Research and Policy Intern for DataCenter, in collaboration with the Food Chain Workers Alliance (FCWA), I completed several projects dealing with low-wage workers in the food supply-chain. The purpose of this research is to assist the members of the FCWA to gather information about workers in the industries all along the food chain so that they can improve conditions for all food-related workers. The industries analyzed include: agriculture, fisheries, animal husbandry, meatpacking/poultry processing, food processing and manufacturing, logistics (includes warehouses, transportation, food distribution), grocery, and restaurants. The primary focus of these projects addressed mobility of the workers within these industries, whether there were opportunities for advancement, barriers to advancement, differences between unionized and non-unionized workplaces, and wage inequities.
The project began with a literature review where I found and summarized over 50 reports, articles, and publications that have been written about mobility and career ladders along the U.S. food supply-chain. A major trend that this research highlighted is the vulnerability of those on the lower pay-scale of the food supply chain. Also, citizenship status, lack of a formal education, and discrimination were among the barriers that many workers faced to moving up career ladders.
I also assisted in a data research project that focused on the number of those employed in food-related fields and the median wage and annual salaries of these workers. We gathered most of our data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. We also looked at the National Agriculture Workers Survey and the USDA to find more specific numbers on U.S. agricultural workers. Unsurprisingly, the data we found reinforced what the literature review had indicated; many workers in food-related industries are greatly underpaid and face many difficulties because of it.
Lastly, FCWA member organizations were interviewed to provide a first hand account on the above issues. The first part of the survey focused on key positions within their field of expertise, the second looked at mobility of workers, and the third addressed companies and other major players within the industry. Again, discrimination was a major barrier to advancement, organized workplaces had many more opportunities for those with a lower-wage, and mobility between industries was infrequent for workers.
Joann Lo, coordinator of the FCWA was quoted in saying:
“As far as we in the Food Chain Workers Alliance knows, no one has ever produced an extensive report on the state of workers throughout the food system in the U.S., including data on wages, career ladders, mobility, demographics, and health and safety conditions. Chris’ research this summer has laid the foundation we need to organize and write this report, which will help guide the Alliance’s work as well as make an impact on allies and policy makers to support our campaigns and initiatives.”
My hope is that my work will further the goals of the DataCenter and the FCWA as much as it has furthered my own abilities and experience. The research, the data collection, the interviews, and analysis were extensive and challenging, but I greatly appreciate the opportunity to engage in such meaningful work with two wonderful organizations.