Report Confirms Low Pay, Few Benefits for Food Workers

The five occupational groups surveyed for the Food Chain Workers Alliance's "The Hands That Feed Us" report account for 20 million workers, about 15 percent of the entire U.S. civilian workforce.

The Food Chain Workers Alliance, a Los Angeles-based organization that includes the UNITE HERE labor union's Food Service Division and two UFCW locals in Hollywood, Calif., and Westbury, N.Y., released a report June 6 on wages, health benefits, and working conditions of workers in five core occupations of the U.S. food chain: farmworkers, slaughterhouse and processing facility workers, warehouse workers, grocery workers, and restaurant and food service workers. The report is based on surveys of 629 workers in these jobs, which collectively are filled by about 20 million workers overall, and interviews with 47 small to mid-size food system employers, as well as BLS and other federal data.

The report, titled "The Hands That Feed Us: Challenges and Opportunities for Workers Along the Food Chain," concludes most food jobs don't provide a sustainable wage floor or basic benefits such as paid sick days, putting the nation's food supply at risk. Many of the employers said competition with large food companies is more challenging for them than the economic downturn and requires them to keep labor costs as low as they possibly can, according to the report.

Forty percent of the surveyed workers work more than 40 hours per week, and 11 percent said they work more than 60 hours weekly at two or more employers. The report says 58 percent said they have no health coverage and 83 percent said they do not receive health insurance from their employer. The report also says 57.2 percent of the workers said they had suffered an injury or health problems on the job.

The alliance recommends that policymakers should guarantee food workers receive benefits such as paid sick days and access to health care, as a way of improving food safety and the public's health.

The alliance includes Brandworkers International, Just Harvest USA, the Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York, and United Food and Commercial Workers Locals 770 and 1500.

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