Equity And Justice In The Food System

October 2020 in , , , ,

Farmworkers and other food chain workers are on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, and immigrant rights. Though they are considered “essential,” they are some of the most exploited workers in America and still not covered by some of the basic labor protections afforded to others.

In a webinar this week, we heard from Jeannie Economos from the Farmworker Association of Florida, Jose Oliva from the HEAL Food Alliance, Florida Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith and California Assemblymember Robert Rivas, who were able to talk about all they’re doing to help food and farm workers across the country. 

See below for a recording of the webinar, additional resources, and 6 main takeaways to help you plan for your 2021 legislative session.

SiX Main Takeaways:

Farm and Food Chain Workers: Equity and Justice in the Food System

  1. Farmworkers make up just one link of the food supply chain—there’s also processing, distribution, retail, and restaurant and service workers. In total, 21.5 million people are food chain workers in this country. Policies should take into account all types of food chain workers.
  2. Food and farm workers are some of the lowest paid and exploited workers in the country because they are not covered by many federal labor laws. State legislators can fill in the gaps where the federal system has failed. 
  3. Protecting food workers means more than just raising wages because workers are also endangered by heat, toxic chemical exposure, substandard housing, COVID-19, smoke from wildfires, and more. Some states have already passed bills to address these problems. 
  4. Even in states with progressive legislatures, large growers and other agricultural interests have a lot of influence at the state house. Changing the system requires buy-in from a variety of stakeholders. 
  5. The best policies will come from including farm and food workers at the table. These are skilled laborers and they know what policies are necessary.
  6. National grassroots coalitions can help connect legislators to farm and food worker organizations in every state. SiX can help connect you!

Watch the Webinar 

Resources to Help You Plan for Your 2021 Legislative Session

Legislation Discussed During the Webinar

California’s bills: AB-2043AB-2164AB-2165
Florida’s HB513: Heat Illness Prevention
Virginia Rule to Protect Ag and Farm Workers

Covid Farm Worker Protections

New Jersey had a bill to appropriate funds for farmers to purchase PPE for farm and food workers. 

Vermont has a bill ensuring that state information related to farm worker safety is communicated in both Spanish and English. California is hearing a similar bill.

Through executive action, Governors from California and Michigan have taken action to protect farm workers. An Executive order from California Governor Newsom requiring paid sick leave for workers, while Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer issued an Executive Order on migrant housing camps during COVID-19. 

Additional Resources

Maps: Food Workers Organizations

Organizing Farmworkers in the Sunshine State: Farmworker Association of Florida

Florida farm workers endure 116 dangerously hot working days each growing season. Laws to protect them failed to pass three years in a row.

Virginia becomes first state to adopt COVID-19 worker safety rules 

Good Food Purchasing Program – Transforming the food chain through values-based food procurement

Unworkable: Public Citizen et al., FL Heat Stress (Oct. 2018)

Farmworkers at Risk | Union of Concerned Scientists

Facing the Sun_Extended Text version on Vimeo