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Food Chain Workers Alliance

FCWA joins civil rights complaint challenging meat processing corporations

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Black, Latino, and Asian slaughterhouse workers suffered disproportionately as the meat industry scrambled to respond to COVID-19. Now, they’re demanding justice.

Food Chain Workers Alliance and Rural Community Workers Alliance, along with several allies advocating for meat processing workers, filed an administrative civil rights complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture on July 8 alleging that two major meat processing corporations have engaged in racial discrimination prohibited by the Civil Rights Act through their workplace policies during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The complaint alleges that megacorporations Tyson and JBS have adopted policies that reject critical Centers for Disease Control guidance – social distancing on meat processing lines – to stop the spread of COVID-19 at their processing facilities and that the results of their current operating procedures have a discriminatory impact on the predominantly Black, Latino and Asian workforce at the companies’ plants.

These policies that endanger workers are a deliberate choice by companies to put profit over the lives of workers and their communities – and the demographics of their workforce is no secret to them. An unacceptable number of workers have become sick. If JBS and Tyson will not prioritize the safety of their Black, Latino, and Asian workers, USDA must enforce our basic civil rights laws.

 FCWA Member Rural Community Workers Alliance joined the complaint.

“Over a decade RCWA has been listening to thousands of stories from meat processing plant workers about poor working conditions and labor injustices,” says Axel Fuentes, director of Rural Community Workers Alliance

“During COVID-19 once again the meat industry discriminates against their workers which in most cases are people of color in their plants and are not allowing them to have a physical distancing to prevent spreading the virus, while their corporate officers and managers, who are mostly white, can either work from home or safely practice distancing on the job.”

The administrative complaint is filed with the USDA, because each of these megacorporations received significant sums of public contracts through USDA. It is also imperative that Congress act to ensure that OSHA does the job it was created to do and issue enforceable standards to protect all workers.

 Take Action

  • Sign our petition urging Congress to act to protect all workers and compel OSHA to issue an emergency temporary standard
  • Stand with poultry workers organizing for increased protections. Sign Venceremos’s letter calling on Governor Asa Hutchinson to protect workers by ordering the shutdown of meat processing plants in Arkansas where workers have tested positive for COVID-19.

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5 THINGS YOU CAN DO TO SUPPORT FOOD WORKERS

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Food workers are still on the job throughout every sector of the food supply chain, providing essential services for the public in this moment of crisis and every day. Yet while corporations are profiting off this crisis, food workers are on the front lines facing dangerous working conditions, a loss of wages, and a lack of access to healthcare.

Here are 5 things you can do to support food workers NOW:

  1. CALL ON GOVERNMENT TO ACT to ensure sick days, healthcare, worker protections, and income for all workers.Sign our petition here.
  1. DEMAND BIG FOOD CORPORATIONS provide sick pay, hazard pay, family leave, and respect the right to organize. Here are just a few petitions started by food workers and food worker organizations:
  1. SUPPORT FOOD WORKER ORGANIZING 
  1. DONATE TO DIRECT NEEDS, FOOD WORKER FUNDS 

5. SUPPORT AND SHARE RESOURCES with food workers in your community

Thank you for supporting food worker organizing!

What food workers on the front lines need RIGHT NOW

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Food workers who serve, deliver, distribute, process and harvest our food are doing critical work in this moment of crisis and everyday. Food workers are still on the job throughout the food chain. Every aspect of the food supply chain are essential services for the public and recognized as such in many government orders. This is highlighting what food workers have been saying for years — our work makes it possible for the world to eat.

Yet, food workers on the front line are facing dangerous working conditions, a loss of wages, and a lack of access to healthcare, while many corporations are profiting off this crisis. Urgent action is needed by all levels of government to protect food workers and not just big business, now and in the long-term. 

HEALTH & SAFETY OF WORKERS MUST BE A PRIORITY 

Even with the enormous job loss taking place, food workers around the country are still working shoulder to shoulder on food processing lines and in warehouses, farmworkers are still planting and harvesting food, food workers are delivering food. Many food workers in rural and urban areas are going to work with no instructions on how to keep themselves safe and without adequate protective gear.

  • Employers must provide workers with accurate and current information on how to protect themselves and their communities from the virus in a language they understand, that is culturally appropriate, and at a literacy level that is appropriate. 
  • Employers must guarantee safe workplaces, including providing all necessary protective equipment, frequent and regular hand-washing breaks, and the required space for “social distancing.”  Farmworkers must be provided easy access to clean and a sufficient amount of water at close proximity to the work site.
  • The same health & safety information and protective equipment must be given to workers in crowded and substandard employer-provided housing.
  • OSHA must issue an emergency standard for infectious diseases to ensure that workers will be protected from all infectious diseases in their workplaces, including COVID-19.

FAIR WORKING CONDITIONS 

We also recognize that this is a time of great disruption to the lives of working people. Workers should not have to choose between keeping their jobs and taking care of themselves and their families. 

  • All workers must have access to free testing, healthcare coverage, and paid sick days regardless of status and size of workplace, including workers in the US and Canada country on H-2A or migrant worker visas.
  • A minimum of 15 paid sick days per year leave for all workers regardless of size of workplace, and additional paid leave for all workers. 
  • Additional paid sick days for all workers when there is a public health emergency.
  • H-2A workers that are currently working in the US (and migrant workers working under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program in Canada) and who become ill must be assured not only free health care, but  with no penalties for inability to complete a contract due to the illness. They must be provided all important information about safety and security relative to their safe transportation back to their home country. Guestworkers awaiting arrival in the U.S. and Canada to begin work, must be provided all relevant information regarding health and safety protections and measures. 
  • Workers should be afforded Paid Family Leave as needed 
  • Workers in industries like retail, warehousing and distribution, delivery, that are expanding their hours and work during this time should make overtime voluntary, and guarantee overtime pay.
  • All food workers continuing to provide essential services should be entitled to receive hazard pay, at a premium of time and a half. 

SUPPORT WORKERS FACING JOB LOSS & WAGE LOSS 

For millions of workers, including food workers, there is enormous job and wage loss. With the majority of food workers already living paycheck to paycheck with low wages, this presents an immediate and long-term crisis. Restaurant workers, reliant on tips to survive, are now facing the financial repercussions of business closings or operating only on take-out. 

At the same time, workers need the ability to stop working due to safety concerns, the need to care for family members, or their own health, and still get paid regardless of their immigration status or job classification, now and for the many months this crisis may last. Federal, state and local governments must ensure that workers receive the supplemental income they need in the form of: 

  • Expanded access to unemployment insurance regardless of immigration or employment status through a clear and easy process. 
  • Cash grants and other subsidies must be offered to workers facing wage loss, with clear and easy access, covering full replacement of wages, and regardless of employment or immigration status.
  • We also support the call to offer monthly cash payments to all U.S. Households to support workers and their families during this crisis. 
  • We also support the call for cash grants and other financial assistance to support small businesses from street vendors, to bodegas, to local eateries.
  • Immediate Moratorium on rent, mortgage payments, loan payments, and no utility shut offs. NO MORE DEBT
  • Immediate Moratorium on the Public Charge Rule which would disqualify immigrants who use public assistance from obtaining permanent residency status. 

*All corporations in the food economy who will continue to profit in the millions, billions and trillions should continue to pay their workers during this time of wage loss. The government should make it a condition of any bail-outs to businesses that the company continues to pay workers throughout the crisis.

IMMIGRATION & UNDOCUMENTED WORKERS 

First and foremost, ALL OF THESE BENEFITS MUST BE MADE AVAILABLE TO ALL WORKERS REGARDLESS OF STATUS! We also call for:

  • An Immediate moratorium on all immigration enforcement, including repatriations and deportations of guest workers and non-status migrants  
  • An Immediate release of all immigration detainees from detention centers and detention camps and adequate health services for all. 
  • A removal of restrictions on work permits for guest workers and migrant workers who have been laid off or terminated  

STREET VENDORS 

Street vendors are generally not eligible for state-sponsored benefits or support like paid sick leave and unemployment insurance, or even small business relief funds. For workers in informal economies, this is a dire situation, leaving many with fear and confusion as to how they will support themselves and their families in the days, weeks and months to come. These low-wage immigrant workers rely on busy streets in order to survive day to day. Without a safety net to fall back on, they are forced to continue to work, with little returns, and risking their health and wellbeing in the process. We join Street Vendors in New York City and elsewhere calling for:

  • Waiving all late penalties for late tax filings   
  • Immediate suspension of city and state enforcement of street vendor compliance violations – regardless of whether the vendor has a permit or a license.   
  • Waiver of outstanding tickets issued since January 2020, as vendors won’t be able to work for the foreseeable future.   
  • Create and expand granting opportunities for low-income sole proprietors for street vendors and other small business 
  • Ensure street vendors and delivery workers are included in city child care plan for frontline workers   
  • Ensure workers who are employed by food cart or truck owners, including undocumented workers, are eligible for unemployment insurance and any forthcoming emergency relief funds 

 

RIGHT TO ORGANIZE

This moment is illuminating what is always true, that the food industry is one of the most exploitative industries in the world and food workers are too often treated as disposable. 

We must demand: 

  • An expansion of protection of the right to organize, enabling food workers to meaningfully exercise their labor rights, to protect themselves and their communities. 

 

 

 

FOOD WORKERS ON THE FRONT LINE OF PUBLIC HEALTH CRISIS NEED URGENT PROTECTIONS

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Food workers are on the front line of the current public health crisis and the resulting economic crisis surrounding the Coronavirus pandemic, along with other precarious workers. Food workers who serve, deliver, distribute, process and harvest our food are doing critical work and are not in a position to follow public health guidance to work from home or maintain social distance, and are very unlikely to have access to paid sick days.

The pandemic is illustrating how strong social safety nets, workplace protections, and public health measures benefit everyone. We know that food workers who don’t have paid sick days and cannot count on other workplace protections, potentially put consumers at risk when they are forced to come to work when they are ill.

Furthermore, many food workers are already working in dangerous and low-paid jobs, or, like restaurant workers, reliant on tips to survive and now facing the financial repercussions of slow business and numerous cancelled events. Food workers who deliver food or groceries through the gig economy are often misclassified as independent contractors and frequently do not have access to workplace protections, paid sick days, or unemployment insurance. The broken healthcare system in the US means many food workers do not have access to health insurance and quality healthcare. For farmworkers who work seasonally, there may be no work to go back to by the time the crisis lifts. 

Data shows that workers of color are far more likely to be paid poverty-level wages than white workers, meaning the impact of this crisis on them and their families is likely to be greater.  

In the supply chains of multinational corporations around the world, workers are producing food destined for supermarkets and restaurants in our communities. From melon workers in Honduras to seafood industry workers in Thailand, many of these workers are denied their internationally-recognized rights to freedom of association, which makes it all the harder for them to raise their voices when they do not have paid sick leave.

FCWA members, and other food workers nationally, are lifting up and winning important demands in this critical moment. 

It is urgent that all levels of government act quickly to ensure that food workers and all workers are guaranteed:

  • A minimum of 15 paid sick days per year leave for all workers regardless of size of workplace, and additional paid leave for all workers
  • Additional paid sick days for all workers when there is a public health emergency.
  • Safe workplaces and fair working conditions, including adequate safety equipment for workers free of charge.
  • The protection and expansion of the right to organize, enabling food workers to meaningfully exercise their labor rights
  • Access to an emergency fund for those who are experiencing a loss or interruption of earnings, regardless of immigration status 
  • Access to unemployment insurance regardless of immigration or employment status 
  • Healthcare for all, regardless of immigration status
  • A halt on evictions and utility shut-offs
  • Immediate moratorium on all immigration enforcement, including repatriations and deportations of guest workers and non-status migrants   
  • A removal of restrictions on work permits for guest workers and migrant workers who have been laid off or terminated 
  • Special supports for workers in crowded and substandard employer-provided housing
  • Financial support for small businesses who experience hardship as a result of the public health crisis.

Further resources: 

 

Photo: United Workers

FCWA STANDS WITH FARMWORKER MEMBERS IN OPPOSING THE FARM WORKFORCE MODERNIZATION ACT OF 2019

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Photo: Farmworker Association of Florida

The FCWA opposes the Farm Workforce Modernization Act because we believe it will set dangerous precedents, divide workers, and ultimately make conditions even more difficult for farmworkers across the country.

Please help us make sure the Farm Workforce Modernization Act does not become law and sign and share our petition urging representatives to oppose the bill.


 

On November 12, 2019, H.R. 5038 – The Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2019 was introduced by Representative Zoe Lofgren of California. The bill introduces a process for farmworkers to access permanent residency status and also amends regulations for workers who work in agriculture under the H-2A program.

The Bill passed in the House by a vote of 260-165 on December 11, 2019. It was received in the Senate on December 12, 2019 and was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary. Senate committee hearings have not yet been scheduled.

Many of our farmworker members have a long history of organizing with farmworkers across the US and Canada and supporting workers to improve their wages and working conditions. As an Alliance, we believe that regardless of immigration status, all farmworkers deserve dignity, respect, and full protection on the job and in the communities in which their families reside. It is our belief that our movement should be guided by this vision of expanding access to rights and protection for all workers, especially the right to organize. 

This bill moves in the opposite direction. It does not include the right to organize for farmworkers. It excludes many workers from “blue card” status, sets up a very long path to get residency status, and requires farmworkers to continue working in agriculture for up to 8 years to qualify. It expands the H-2A program without providing necessary oversight or adequate protections, and will serve to further divide farm workers against one another based on their immigration status. Many of our farmworker members have the following critiques of the bill:

PATH TO LEGAL STATUS IS LIMITED, COMPLEX AND EXCLUDES MANY CURRENT FARMWORKERS

The bill introduces a complicated process to access residency status that will exclude many current farmworkers and their families. For those workers who would be eligible, the bill requires workers to continue working for a long period (up to 8 more years) in agriculture to qualify. 

THE BILL EXPANDS A FLAWED H-2A PROGRAM 

Many of our farmworker members organize with guestworkers or are seeing increasing numbers of guestworkers enter their regions and sectors and with that an increase in exploitation for both H-2A workers and domestic workers. H-2A workers’ immigration status is tied to one employer and workers are isolated in rural farming locations with little access to support, making it much more challenging to speak out about exploitation. Furthermore, workers in the H-2A temporary foreign agricultural worker program have often paid significant sums to recruiters to obtain jobs, visas, and transportation. This current legislation does not jointly hold employers and recruiters liable for violations. When H-2A workers do report violations, they often face retaliation, including repatriation to their home countries. Despite this, we have seen many H-2A workers and guestworkers courageously come together to expose wage theft, health and safety violations, and other issues in their workplaces. 

The bill as negotiated increases some limited protections for H-2A workers, but it also weakens other hard fought protections that are already in place, such as a 1-year freeze of the Adverse Effect Wage Rate. As negotiated, the current bill expands an exploitative program without the serious overhaul and oversight of the program that is needed. We believe we should strongly oppose employers using immigration laws to exploit and divide workers. Both guest workers and undocumented workers should have access to permanent status. 

Earlier this year, the House of Representatives added a rider (section 533) to an appropriations bill for the Department of Homeland Security (H.R. 3931) that if approved would expand the H-2A program to year-round work, with no reforms made to the program. This is a direct response to lobbying from agricultural employers, especially the dairy industry, who for years have been pushing for expansion of the program. Some advocates are suggesting that H.R. 5038 would counteract and replace this harmful rider. It is our view that H.R. 5038 is simply not strong enough to do so and we should oppose any legislation that does not provide stronger rights on the job for farmworkers and guestworkers and oversight over their conditions. 

The current proposed changes only reinforce the significant power imbalance between employers and workers. We strongly stand against any system of indentured servitude and believe all agricultural labourers should be treated with fairness and dignity and no worker should be disposable to serve the interests of the agricultural industry. 

REQUIRING E-VERIFY IN AGRICULTURE WILL HURT FARMWORKERS AND SETS UP A DANGEROUS PRECEDENT

E-Verify is a web-based system that allows enrolled employers to confirm the eligibility of their employees to work in the United States. For most employers, E-Verify is voluntary and currently, there are no entire industries that are required under law to use E-Verify.  E-Verify unduly places a heavier burden on workers than on growers to comply and leaves workers vulnerable to fraud. We strongly oppose the collection of data that could one day be used to criminalize workers. Beyond the incredibly harmful impact this will have on farmworkers, granting this concession sets up a very harmful precedent for other immigration reform measures in the future. 

INJURED FARMWORKERS ARE EXCLUDED

Agriculture is one of the most dangerous industries for workers, yet this bill will exclude the hundreds of thousands of undocumented farmworkers who have been injured on the job and who will therefore not qualify for residency status. While the bill contains some language regarding workplace safety and prevention of sexual harassment, there is no mechanism or funding in place for tracking and enforcement, nor is there any language around provision of healthcare. The bill does not address how guestworkers are often repatriated and blacklisted after they are injured. 

Finally, as our members have noted, there is no provision for the right to strike, the right to join a union, or the right to bargain collectively as a counterbalance to employers’ control over workers. 

For all of these reasons, the FCWA opposes the Farm Workforce Modernization Act. We call on our allies to join us in taking action to ensure this bill does not pass. 

  1. Sign and share our petition urging representatives to oppose FWMA.
  2. Share our message that #FarmworkersDeserveBetter in your networks.

 

BACKGROUND INFORMATION

Download the FCWA’s full statement on FWMA here:

Read statement’s from our members and from other allies on the harmful impact of FWMA:

CATA

Community to Community Development

Familias Unidas por la Justicia

Farmworker Association of Florida

UFCW

 

 

Support Striking Meatpackers at Olymel!

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On Day One of Food Workers Rising, we are asking you to support 350 striking food workers in Princeville Quebec!

Meatpacking workers at Olymel have been on strike since October 29. The Quebec-based company is the largest hog producer in Canada. Workers at the Princeville Olymel plant took a $5.40 paycut in 2005 to help the company keep it’s plant doors open. But workers have not seen a fair share of Olymel’s record profits since then and are calling for a fair raise. 

TAKE ACTION

Meat processing is one of the most difficult and dangerous jobs in the food industry. Can you support the 350 Olymel striking workers by making a call to Olymel CEO today? 

Call Olymel’s head office at: 1 800 361-7990 EXT 3123

Or send a message to the company here: 

Sample message:

“I am calling to support the striking Olymel workers in Princeville. They work hard to make Olymel profitable and deserve a fair wage.”

The 350 striking workers are members of the Federation of Commerce (FC-CSN), one of our newest FCWA members. Federation of Commerce represents 28,000 workers including those employed at grocery stores, warehouses, meatpacking and food processing across the province of Quebec.

Help us get the word on social media to support striking Olymel workers and stay tuned for Day 2 of Food Workers Rising!

New Report Debunks Walmarts Claims of Sustainability and Fairness Along the Supply Chain

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On June 4, 2015 the day before Walmart’s annual shareholder meeting, FCWA released a new report that finds a major discord between Walmart’s labor and environmental claims and the reality in its food supply chain and provides recommendations for improvements.

 

“Walmart at the Crossroards: the Environmental and Labor Impact of Its Food Supply Chain” examines Walmart’s labor and environmental “codes of ethics” for its suppliers as well as its goal of benefiting farmers via local food purchases. The study looks closely Walmart’s impact on farmers and at the labor and environmental records of 22 major suppliers of popular food items – suppliers include Flowers Foods, Taylor Farms, Tyson, and United Natural Foods, Inc. The report findings underscore Walmart’s priority on profits at the expense of genuine enforcement of its suppliers’ compliance with the code of ethics and over its goals for environmental sustainability and helping local farmers.

 

Walmart has recently taken steps in the right direction, such as last year’s announcement to sign on to the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ Fair Food Program that has implications for farmworkers and a May 22, 2015, announcement by Walmart officials that it will ask its suppliers to animal welfare standards. However, Walmart is now at a crossroads. Will they do the right thing and ensure that their code of ethics is independently verified, or will they continue to use PR as the strategy to address real human suffering and environmental devastation? We are calling on Walmart to truly enforce its labor and environmental standards and to strengthen them, based on the recommendations in our report.

 

The findings of the study compelled us to launch a new petition with the report on, demanding that Walmart treat workers and farmers in its food supply chain with dignity and respect and to improve its environmental and animal welfare standards. Walmart is the world’s largest retailer and one of the most highly valued publicly traded companies. Foodstuffs currently account for over half of Walmart sales, representing roughly 25% of all groceries sold in the U.S.

 Sign the Petition

Donate for Joann’s 40th Birthday!

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2014 05 18 JoannJoann Lo, co-director of the Food Chain Workers Alliance, is turning 40 this year on March 16, and her birthday wish is to raise $1,500 for the Alliance! Click below to donate!

Joann is so proud to be part of this organization that is supporting innovative organizing campaigns and policy initiatives that are improving jobs for low-wage food workers and that is changing the national discussion around a sustainable food system so more and more people now include good jobs as part of what a sustainable food should be. Please consider donating at least $40 for her 40th birthday (more or less is much appreciated, too!) and help her reach her goal! In the above photo, she is at a rally with her husband and her daughter. Thank you for your help!

Food Chain Avengers!

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*Food Chain Avengers: A Food Justice & Worker Justice Comic Book*

Food Chain Avengers cover English20 million people work in the food system in the U.S., joining millions around the world who labor on farms and in meat, poultry and food processing facilities, warehouses, grocery stores and restaurants. The food system is the largest employer in the U.S. and the majority of frontline food workers earn poverty wages. In the U.S., a third of food workers suffer from food insecurity and hunger.

The members of the Alliance decided to create a comic book focused on food workers in order to illustrate the issues facing these workers, as well as their efforts to organize to improve their workplaces, their communities, and the food system. Luis DeLeon, a restaurant worker and member of the Restaurant Opportunities Center of Chicago, volunteered to write the backstory for the comic book. He created five characters, each representing one of the five main sectors of the food system, and he called them the Food Chain Avengers.

The Food Chain Avengers comic book uses examples drawn from real experiences by workers in their respective industries, the five main characters of the story walk us through each of five sectors of the food chain: production, processing, distribution, retail, and food service. The comic book exposes the exploitative nature of the industry Vis-à-vis its workers, communities, and the environment. in addition, it tells the story of struggle to victory.

Food Chain Avengers is illustrated and written by artist Jerel Dye. Jerel is an Artist, illustrator, and designer based in Massachusetts.  While in high school he worked as a pizza chef. You can learn more about Jerel’s work at http://jereldye.com/blog/.

You can order copies in English and/or Spanish using the form below. You can also download a PDF of comic book in color in SpanishEnglish, and Chinese. We have also developed discussion guides with suggested homework assignments for middle school students (Spanish here) and high school students (Spanish here)that list the Common Core English Language Arts Standards that the comic book and discussion guides address. We also have a discussion guide for adults (Spanish here).

Welcome, OUR Walmart!

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Join us in welcoming our new member OUR Walmart!

our walmart at home officeWe are happy to share that OUR Walmart is now a member of Food Chain Workers Alliance.  OUR Walmart works to ensure that every Associate, regardless of his or her title, age, race, or sex, is respected at Walmart. They join together to offer strength and support in addressing the challenges that arise in their stores and the company everyday. They envision a future in which the company treats the Associates of Walmart, with respect and dignity. They envision a world where they can succeed in their careers, the company succeeds in business, customers receive great service and value, and Walmart and Associates share all of these goals.

We are proud to have this courageous group of workers join the Alliance with others workers across the food chain.

Learn more about their campaign and how you can get involved here.

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