A new report released by the Food Chain Workers Alliance, for the first time, looks at wages and working conditions of workers across the entire food chain - a sector that employs 20 million people in the U.S., comprising one-sixth of the nation's workforce.
"THE HANDS THAT FEED US: Challenges and Opportunities for Workers Along the Food Chain" is based on nearly 700 surveys and interviews with workers and employers in food production, processing, distribution, retail and service, which collectively sell over $1.8 trillion dollars in goods and services annually, accounting for over 13 percent of the nation's Gross Domestic Product.
According to the new 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, with dire consequences for consumers. 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.
"Most people don't think about the millions of food system workers who make it possible for us to shop in grocery stores or eat in restaurants," says Joann Lo, Executive Director of the Food Chain Workers Alliance.
The new report examines the five core food occupations and industries in the food system: farmworkers (production), slaughterhouse and other processing facilities workers (processing), warehouse workers (distribution), grocery store workers (retail), and restaurant and food service workers (service). It examines how corporate consolidation throughout the food chain has created universal impacts on workers in terms of low wages, small to midsize employers in terms of unfair competition, and consumers in terms of food quality and diversity.
There are answers: There is tremendous potential to engage consumers, small-to-midsize employers and workers to change the food system for all. For starters policymakers can increase the minimum wage and guarantee workers health benefits and the right to organize. Consumers can support businesses that are providing livable wages and benefits, and speak out against those that are not. Employers can increase wages and benefits; adopt systematic and fair hiring and promotion practices; and adopt benefits, such as paid sick days, that would allow employees to care for themselves and their families.
For more information about the report, please visit foodchainworkers.org