CIRS Blog about Rural California

Focus on Food Workers

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Usually on Thanksgiving week, CIRS issues a statement about thanking workers in the fields for producing food for our tables when they may not be able to eat these foods themselves. This year, we would like to promote a national concerted effort to turn the focus on food workers all across the food chain.


November 23-29, is the third annual International Food Workers Week, conceived by the Food Chain Workers Alliance. This is a week of events and actions designed to educate consumers about the many challenges facing food system workers from farm to fork—workers who participate in and shape the national food system. The focus of this year’s International Food Worker Week is on the individual Food Worker Heroes whom we depend on for our food every day.


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High poverty and food insecurity rates among farm workers and food industry workers underscore the dire need to reevaluate and reform how food chain workers are treated and how they are compensated for their essential services to communities. These problems persist in California’s agricultural communities and across the nation. CIRS has published two studies on farmworker food insecurity in Fresno County and Salinas and is currently working on a third in Yolo County. Ironically, farmworkers growing food for our holiday feasts experience a much higher rate of food insecurity and hunger than the general population. The poverty rate for farm worker families is more than twice the poverty rate of all wage and salary employees combined, and far higher than that of any other occupation. Likewise, restaurant servers have three times the poverty rate and use food stamps at twice the rate of the rest of the workforce. 



How can policymakers and other food worker advocates help? CIRS supports:

  1. Immigration reform should be fair to farm workers by removing the exploitable condition of “illegal or undocumented” labor and replacing it with workers who have labor rights, can organize, cannot be deported because they speak up for their labor rights, and have a potential path to permanent legal status and citizenship.
  2. Improve safety and labor law enforcement by providing additional field inspectors to the staff of U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division and OSHA. Farmworkers are 5 times more likely to die from an injury at work than all other civilian workers COMBINED.
  3. All provisions of federal labor standards that govern conditions of employment in the private retail sector, wholesale trade, transportation, construction and manufacturing industries should apply to hired farm workers on an equal basis.  Including an end to child labor.
  4. The National Labor Relations Act should stop excluding agricultural and domestic workers from the federally protected right to engage in concerted action to improve wages and working conditions.





In conjunction with International Food Workers Week, the California Institute for Rural Studies is hosting the Bay Area premiere of the film Food Chains, a new documentary created by Eva Longoria. The sold-out film will take place tonight at 7:30 PM at the AMC Bay Street 16 in Emeryville. The Director of the film, Sanjay Rawal, will participate in a post-film discussion panel that will also include Margaret Reeves from Pesticide Action Network North America, Dominic Ware of OUR Walmart, and Doug Bloch of Teamsters Joint Council 7


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Food Chains focuses on an intrepid and highly lauded group of tomato pickers from Southern Florida who have fought to ensure a dignified life for farm workers and a more humane, transparent food chain for everyone. Food Chains reveals the tremendous power that supermarkets and fast food restaurants have over the agricultural system at large. While maximizing profits for shareholders and executives, some powerful businesses have drained revenue from their supply chain. Farm workers often bear the brunt of these business decisions via low wages and subhuman workplace conditions.


Several other food worker-focused events will take place in California this week, and there are several petitions and online action alerts being circulated, including: 


Wendy’s Action —“Boot the Braids”- Irvine, CA; contact: 

Monday, November 24 at 4:30 PM: University of California, Irvine


Food Chains Film premiere with Student Farmworker Alliance - Irvine, CA

Monday, November 24 at 7:00 PM: Starplex Cinemas Irvine Woodbridge Movies 5, 4626 Barranca Parkway, Irvine, CA, US, 92604. FCWA will be there to sell comic books, and Lupe Gonzalo, Coalition of Immokalee Workers member, will also be at this screening.

All-week “Food Chains”screenings: Bakersfield, Los Angeles,Pittsburg, San Diego, Salinas, and San Francisco. Check with theaters for more information, including to find Spanish-language screenings.

March for Farmworker Justice - San Francisco, CA; contact:
Saturday, Nov. 29 at 3:30pm, March from Roxie (3117 16th St., San Francisco, CA) to Foods Co (8 blocks) to protest refusal of Kroger (parent co. of Foods Co) to join the Fair Food Program.


Our Walmart Black Friday Protests: 2 dozen+ around the state:



Online Petitions and Actions:


Farmworker Association of Florida Advocate for drivers licenses for residents in FL, including undocumented immigrants:

Our Walmart:  Support Walmart workers’demand for $15/hr wage and full-time hours: 

Restaurant Opportunities Centers United: Expose the National Restaurant Association’s influence on Capitol Hill and raise worker voices: 

International Labor Rights Forum: Many of the farmers who grow cocoa live in abject poverty, and child labor is still a serious problem: 

Farmworker Association of Florida and the Pesticide Action Network of North America: Send a message to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which is currently deliberating revisions to the Worker Protection Standard (WPS), the only federal rules designed specifically to protect farmworkers from pesticide exposure.

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