by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Labor

May 5 2020

More on the crisis in meatpacking

Who knew that meatpacking plants would become the flash point for everything that’s wrong with our food system.  An alarming 18% of packinghouse workers are infected with Covid-19—the ones known.

Public health authorities insisted that the plants be closed, and Food Dive lists the ones that did.

Because the plants closed, farmers have nowhere to send their ready-for-slaughter animals.  But, says Civil Eats , don’t blame them for having to cull their animals.  It’s not their fault; it’s the fault of the big companies that own the animals.

Farmers under contract don’t own the animals they are raising, and therefore cannot simply find a new market for them…The reality is that farmers don’t have to option sell the animals anywhere else. If the company tells them to euthanize an entire flock of the bird it owns on the spot, farmers have no choice but to comply—even as consumers clamber over empty shelves in the supermarkets, farmers are forced to depopulate.

What happens to the dead animals?  There really are no good options.

Burning, burying, or composting up to 70,000 hog carcasses a day—or even grinding them into dust—could have serious consequences for our air and drinking water.

What happens to the workers, now forced by presidential order to go back to the plants?

In interviews with poultry workers in Georgia, Arkansas and Mississippi a similar pattern of alleged negligence, secrecy and mismanagement emerged at facilities operated by some of the largest food manufacturers in America…For more than a century, the meatpacking industry has been a symbol of how corporations are able to exploit workers in the name of efficiency. The Covid-19 outbreak has opened another chapter.

Trump, says The Guardian,  is marching meatpacking workers off to their deaths.

With his executive order on Tuesday night, the president is in effect overruling safety-minded governors and mayors who have pressured numerous meat, pork and poultry plants into shutting temporarily after they had become hotspots that were spreading Covid-19 through their surrounding communities. With such a move, Trump is – let’s not mince words here – is showing contempt for both workers’ health and public health.

What is this really all about?  Read this analysis in Dissent.

Why has the pandemic thrived in meat factories? It was a perfect storm caused by a whole raft of dysfunctionalities, from the rise of giant agribusiness companies to the hollowing out of the nation’s regulatory state, and the hyper-exploitation of a vulnerable, largely immigrant working class which staffs the lines. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspections have long been laughable at these plants. Fines, when leveled, tend to be a few thousand dollars, a pittance for billion-dollar corporations. The low-wage workers who staff the plants live in cramped quarters, sometimes with more than one family sharing the same dwelling—so if one person gets sick, the disease can spread quickly…By intervening so directly in the food-chain crisis, the Trump administration has thoroughly politicized the conditions under which food is produced.

I suppose we must thank the Covid-19 pandemic for so clearly exposing deep structural problems and inequities in our food system.

Will a new labor movement arise?  See tomorrow’s post.

Addition

State Attorneys General have written a letter expressing anti-trust concerns about how consolidation in the meat industry has led to this crisis.

Given the concentrated market structure of the beef industry, it may be particularly susceptible to market manipulation, particularly during
times of food insecurity, such as the current COVID-19 crisis. During an economic downturn, such as that caused by the current pandemic, firms’ ability to harm American consumers through market manipulation and coordinated behavior exacts a greater toll, providing an additional reason for conducting a careful inquiry into this industry.

Sep 2 2019

Have a happy, thoughtful, appreciative Labor Day

I particularly like this poster celebrating Labor Day in 2014.

Let’s honor, protect, and pay the people who harvest our vegetables, slaughter our meat, and prepare our food.

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Aug 28 2019

Eric Schlosser on the meat industry’s hypocrisy about immigrants

Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation, explains in The Atlantic Why It’s Immigrants Who Pack Your Meat.

You really should read the whole thing.  It’s a powerful indictment.  Here are a few excerpts. 

  • The immigration raid last week at seven poultry plants in rural Mississippi was a perfect symbol of the Trump administration’s racism, lies, hypocrisy, and contempt for the poor. It was also a case study in how an industry with a long history of defying the law has managed to shift the blame and punishment onto workers.
  • What Trump has described as an immigrant “invasion” was actually a corporate recruitment drive for poor, vulnerable, undocumented, often desperate workers.
  • The immigrant workers arrested in Mississippi the other day were earning about $12.50 an hour. Adjusted for inflation, during the late 1970s, the wages of meatpacking workers in Iowa and Colorado were about $50 an hour.
  • Over the years, I’ve spent time with countless farmworkers and meatpacking workers who entered the United States without proper documentation. Almost all of them were hardworking and deeply religious. They had taken enormous risks and suffered great hardships on behalf of their families. Today workers like them are the bedrock of our food system. And they are now being scapegoated, hunted down, and terrorized at the direction of a president who inherited about $400 million from his father, watches television all day, and employs undocumented immigrants at his golf resorts.
Apr 15 2015

Tax Day 2015: Protesting low wages and taxpayer subsidies of low-wage work

Today is the day your taxes are due (in case you hadn’t noticed) and I’ve been collecting items on how tax dollars are used to subsidize businesses that rely on low-wage workers.

1.  Fight for $15 is mobilizing fast-food and other low-wage workers to walk off their jobs today in what the group says is the most widespread mobilization ever by U.S. workers seeking higher pay.  It expects protests in “more than 100 cities, in 35 countries, on six continents, from Sao Paolo to Tokyo.”  USA Today has the story on it.

2.  The New York Times featured people who are working, but still need public assistance to get buy (and they qualify for it).

Yet these same people also are on public assistance — relying on food stamps, Medicaid or other stretches of the safety net to help cover basic expenses when their paychecks come up short.

And they are not alone. Nearly three-quarters of the people helped by programs geared to the poor are members of a family headed by a worker, according to a new study by the Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education at the University of California. As a result, taxpayers are providing not only support to the poor but also, in effect, a huge subsidy for employers of low-wage workers, from giants like McDonald’s and Walmart to mom-and-pop businesses.

3.  The Washington Post also covered this story, which comes from a report by  from the University of California at Berkeley’s Center for Labor Research and Education.

Families in which at least one member is working now make up the vast majority of those enrolled in major public-assistance programs like Medicaid and food stamps, according to a new study. It’s a “hidden cost” of low-wage work, researchers say, and it costs taxpayers about $153 billion a year.

4.  The Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) just released a report, Picking up the NRA’s Tab: The Public Cost of Low Wages in the Restaurant Industry.

The report’s key findings:

  • Nearly half of the families of full-service restaurant workers are enrolled in one or more public-assistance programs.
  • The cost of public assistance to families of workers in the full-service restaurant industry is $9,434,067,497 per year.
  • Tipped restaurant workers live in poverty at 2.5 times the rate of the overall workforce.
  • Restaurant workers as a whole experience poverty at a rate over twice that of the overall workforce – 20.9%.
  • Large full-service restaurant companies like Darden and DineEquity pay their workers so little that many of the employees of these companies rely on taxpayer-funded programs.
  • The taxpayer cost of a single Olive Garden is $196,970 annually.

ROC United is spearheading ‘One Fair Wage,’ a multi-state and national campaign to raise the lower, tipped minimum wage–currently $2.13 per hour–to 100% of the regular minimum wage.

Now, how about setting the minimum wage at $15 per hour….

Jan 21 2014

A triumph for organized labor: Walmart agrees to pay 1 cent/pound more to tomato pickers

The  big news last week—and it is very big news—is that Walmart has signed on to the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ (CIW) Fair Food Program.

Under this program, Walmart agrees to pay Florida tomato pickers one penny more for each pound harvested — and says it will apply that premium to other fresh produce sold by the chain.

A penny a pound may not sound like much, especially since Walmart took in $466 billion  in revenue last year.

But it means that workers who are now paid 50 cents for a 32-pound basket will get 82 cents, and their wages can go from $50 to $90 dollars a day.

As Tom Philpott explains in Mother Jones

Late Thursday, CIW netted the biggest fish of all: Walmart, by far the largest private food buyer in the US. A company that muscled its way to the top of the US corporate heap by pinching pennies—squeezing suppliers and its own workers relentlessly—has now agreed to shell out an extra penny per pound for tomatoes.

CIW has shown yet again that scrappy workers, sufficiently organized, can win concessions from even the most ruthless companies.

Barry Estabrook, whose book Tomatoland has done so much to bring attention to the CIW’s accomplishments, writes in Civil Eats

The struggle for labor justice in the fields of the United States—and perhaps far beyond—took an historic stride forward yesterday. At a folding table in a metal-clad produce packing shed beside a tomato field in southwestern Florida, two high-ranking executives from the giant retailer Walmart, which sells more groceries than any other company in the world, sat down beside two Mexican farmworkers and signed an agreement to join the Fair Food Program…The implications of the Walmart decision cannot be understated. Enormous pressure will be placed on competing grocery giants to follow Walmart’s lead.

Good work, CIW.