Food Workers: Exploited At Every Stage of Food Production & Distribution

In reporting on 2016 Food Trends, the NYC Food Policy Center at Hunter College noted how the food consuming public is increasingly aware of wage exploitation of food workers. Panelist, Kate Ferranti, Business Operations Manager, The Cleaver Company, offered the following as part of a panel discussion:

“The ‘Fight for $15′ is gaining momentum (having won a victory in New York State), and the movement toward no tipping, raising kitchen salaries, and greater equity for restaurant staff is growing stronger.”

In December, Governor Cuomo announced three increases in the minimum wage in New York; workers in the fast food industry, tipped positions, and all other industries each received a higher wage; $10.50 for fast food workers in NYC and $9.75 for those workers in the rest of the state. The Governor continues to advocate for a $15 statewide minimum wage.

These wage increases are partly the outgrowth of greater labor advocacy by fast food workers and efforts to unionize them. The largest campaign, Fast Food Forward, emphasizes that the part-time hours and low-pay of fast food workers compels many to be on public assistance while simultaneously working.   The group has noted that while $200 billion is grossed annually by the fast food industry, the average worker brings home $11,000 in pay.

Growing awareness of the substandard wages and labor protections of restaurant workers has also led to heightened focus on the farm and production workers. Panelist, Dr. Margaret Gray, Associate Professor at Adelphi University offered:

“Smaller farming regions around the country have workers who experience the same conditions as those on factory farms and the same way consumers pushed for organic and animal welfare, we can help improve working conditions.”

Her sentiments echo issues brought up by the Haas Institute of Berkeley. Their analysis of the U.S. Farm Bill, described as the pre-eminent piece of U.S. food and agriculture legislation in the U.S., finds:

“Increasingly, it is corporate interests and actors that have the greatest influence in pushing for specific language and policies that advance their respective interests in the Farm Bill. Furthermore, this power that corporations hold has worsened the racial, gender, and economic inequity that has long characterized the food system, and society more broadly.”