Our VoiceHealth & Environment

Occupying the Food Chain

Charlotte Williams • Dec 05, 2011

With a litany of negative circumstances impacting people in this country, Occupy Wall Street (OWS) has become both a beacon of hope and a catalyst for change, as so many are feeling that their voices and actions can actually make a difference.

And so OWS continues to provide a backdrop for acts of resistance, fueling a fresh climate for social justice movement building.

The infectious momentum of OWS and it’s “now is the time” organizing energy is also being exemplified by the ongoing organizing efforts of the Food Chain Workers Alliance (FCWA) and the hundreds of thousands of workers in the food industry in this country.  FCWA, with its twelve member organizations, represents in total over 160,000 of the 20 million workers along the food chain.

In what has become a bi-annual gathering, food chain workers met to share stories, successes, best practices, challenges, and to build collective, supportive power bases in order to advance “a more sustainable food system that respects workers’ rights, [and is] based on the principles of social, environmental and racial justice, in which everyone has access to healthy and affordable food.”

The FCWA is an integral leader in the food movement, particularly as they organize within a cultural framework of structural racism. FCWA are paving a new road to justice, as is the case with OWS: “Occupy protesters have to create not just a set of demands, but a set of new ways of demanding.”  The food justice work being done by the FCWA has moved from only responding to recruiting, to resisting, and now to redirecting the comprehensive efforts that are necessary for addressing the severe lack of justice plaguing the food industry. Just as a few examples, ponder the following:

  • On average, US farm workers earn only $10,000-$12,499 per year.
  • About 400,000 farm workers are children.
  • The average earnings for a worker in the meat-packing industry is $11.13/hour, 29% less than the average wage for all manufacturing jobs in the US.
  • Meatpacking is the one of the most dangerous jobs in America. More than 1 in 10 workers in meatpacking plants suffer illness and injuries, double the rate for all other areas of US manufacturing.
  • On average, restaurant workers annually earn $12,868. Compare that to all of the private sector, which clocks in at $45,371.
  • The results of a study focused on New York City revealed that 98% of restaurant workers who sneezed or coughed into the food did not have paid sick days, and 65% of all workers who engaged in any dangerous consumer health practice had no access to any benefits whatsoever.
  • On average, non-union food service workers earn just $7.80 per hour, while those in unions make an average of $10.32 per hour.
  • A recent report found that 23% grocery workers were paid less than the minimum wage, and 65% were not paid for the overtime hours they worked.
  • In the greater Chicago area and in Southern California, the two major warehousing centers of the United States, a majority of workers are employed by temp agencies that pay them minimum wage and sometimes even less.

With successful campaigns against large food corporations such as McDonalds, Burger King, and Whole Foods, FCWA’s members are poised to make significant progress against food worker injustices at the hands of the food industrial complex, and to erase all statistics like those listed above.

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