The “HANDS THAT FEED US: Challenges and Opportunities for Workers Along the Food Chain” report conducted more than 600 surveys and interviews over eight months with workers and employers in food production, processing, distribution, retail and service.
Conclusions included the need to increase the minimum wage, provide more career opportunities for all demographics and address health and safety risks.
The Food Chain Workers Alliance said there are critical questions for the future of all the food system’s stakeholders—including workers, employers, and consumers.
It found 86% reported earning low or poverty wages and food system workers use food stamps at double the rate of the rest of the US workforce.
The key to the future of the system is tied to food workers, the executive director of the Food Chain Workers Alliance, Joann Lo, told FoodProductionDaily.com.
“Many people know where their food comes from and where it is produced, if it is organic and safe but the issue of worker conditions is removed and they are mostly invisible.
“Some employers just care about making money and don’t care at all about employees while others are doing all they can and just need to have more control or a bit more guidance,” she said.
“There is help, it is not all doom and gloom and some of the findings in the report were good surprises although there is work still to be done.”
Due to a lack of sick days provided by employers, more than half (53%) of the workers surveyed reported picking, processing, selling, cooking and serving food while sick, an average of at least three days per year.
Lo said: “Conditions food workers face impacts the safety of food quality and health, as the majority are low paid, work in a dangerous environment or unsafe conditions.
“[The report will] improve standards of the system, perceptions and raise awareness of conditions facing workers.”
She said employers and industry need to work with employees to develop programmes to improve training and workplace standards.
The study found 32% did not receive any training, 74% had no ongoing job training and 75% never had the opportunity to apply for a better job.
It added 57.2% suffered injury or health problems on the job and 52% did not receive health and safety training.
Lo added: “The top issues are health and safety in the workplace with a lack of training and safe equipment for people to do their jobs, no breaks and injuries.
“Challenges include working conditions and training but policy makers and employers need to work together to change food safety for the better by increasing the minimum wage and ensuring a better workplace.”
The sample demographics included 57.7% of a Latino background, 38.2% were 26-35 years old, 43.1% were high school graduates and 56.8% of the total sample were foreign-born.
Hours worked per week
The data showed 40% worked more than 40 hours per week and 11% worked more than 60 hours per week at two or more employers.
Lo added that they found most employees wanted to do the right thing.
“It needs to happen together in the workplace, as the money is there to encourage employers who need the incentive.
“The grocery market control of the major firms has a major impact and it is up to US government agencies to take steps to decrease monopolization in industry and their influence and control.”
The report used 629 surveys from 11 member organisations of the Food Chain Workers Alliance and US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Current Population Survey (CPS).