Here in the U.S., food is on our minds as many prepare to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday. We’re proud to be part of a coalition that has declared the week of November 19-25 International Food Workers Week, a time to reflect on and appreciate the many hands and hard work that make our meals possible.
Food workers all along the food chain face many perils. Agricultural work is some of the most dangerous work in the world and farmworkers are at risk of accidents, injuries, pesticide poisoning, and heat-related illness. While there is often the impression that workers in the U.S. are protected by strong labor laws, that’s not always the case for farmworkers. Weak rules, lax enforcement, and discrimination mean that farmworkers may lack proper equipment and other protections, and most states exempt farmworkers from minimum wage requirements and other laws that benefit workers in other sectors.
As food moves along the food chain, the picture for food workers doesn’t look much better. The 2016 report No Piece of the Pie highlights the racism, sexism, low wages, food insecurity, and risk of illness and injury faced by workers in the processing, manufacturing, distribution, retail, and restaurant sectors of the food chain. The report documents workers who are routinely exposed to chemicals, work in both hot and cold temperature extremes—both as low as the 50s and as high as the 90s—do not get paid for sick days, face frequent sexual harassment from customers and coworkers, yet routinely earn on average $10/hour for difficult and dangerous work.
This week especially we remember and celebrate food workers, both their contributions to the food on our table and the struggle for better pay and conditions.
Food workers are resisting. Food workers are asking for safer conditions, better pay, more protections from discriminations, harassment, and deportation. But they need our help.
The good news is that two pieces of legislation have already been introduced that could have a huge positive impact on workers:
- The Raise the Wage Act of 2017 would increase the federal minimum wage to $15/hour for all workers. Tell Congress you support this important piece of legislation that would benefit millions of low-wage food workers.
- A ban on the toxic pesticide chlorpyrifos would protect all of us: farmworkers who are routinely exposed to this chemical in fields, children in farming areas, drinking water, and consumers exposed to residue on common foods like corn, oranges, and strawberries. Tell your Senators you support this ban!
If you want to learn more about food workers or find a local action to support, you can also check out the International Food Workers Week website.
The people who grow, harvest, process, prepare, sell, and serve our food will always play a vital role in our lives. Now it’s time to make sure their pay and working conditions reflect that!