At events on college campuses across the nation today, UNITEHERE!, the largest worker organization for food workers in the United States, is making the connection between healthy, sustainable food and working standards for those employed in the food service industry.
Celebrations will take place at colleges and universities in California, Connecticut, Illnois, Maryland and Massachusetts to make the case that food workers want to prepare fresh, sustainably grown food they can serve with pride to their customers and deserve the compensation and benefits that allow them to feed their families in a healthy fashion. The gatherings bring together students, faculty, food workers and community food groups for a day of cooking, eating and talking together about ways to improve the nation’s food system. In conjunction with today’s Food Day events, UNITEHERE! launched a new website, Real Food, Real Jobs, that explores the relationship between sustainable food and workplace fairness.
A great irony for food workers is that one in four of those employed in the food services industry lives in households described as “food-insecure” by social science reseachers, according to a release from UNITEHERE!:
For example, because of poverty wages paid by the food service industry, many food workers are unable to afford enough food to feed their families: 13% of food service workers lived in households that utilized food stamps at some point during the year, nearly double the national average.
Food service workers who have union representation fare significantly better, earning wages and benefites that are 18 percent higher than those without a union. Sonja Edwards, who works in food service at Loyala Marymount University in Los Angeles, where food service workers recently won their first union contract, told UNITEHERE!:
[Th]e difference the union has made in my life is of course the pay increase. That’s extra money I can put towards fresh groceries.
Nearly one-third of food workers are at risk for diet-related illnesses, such as diabetes and heart disease—the highest rate in any occupational sector. As reported by UNITEHERE!, food workers are not ignorant of the risks to their own health posed by a worklife in which they often have to work more than one job in order to make ends meet. Gladys Burrell, a food worker at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, explains what it’s like to live in what policy wonks often describe as “food deserts” in the parts of the urban landscape inhabited by low-income workers:
There is a real barrier to getting good, real food for folks in our communities….Sometimes the cost of unhealthy food is less than it is for healthy food. And bad food is everywhere, like drive-thru fast food places.
UNITEHERE! represents more than 90,000 food service workers employed in corporate cafeterias, airports, universities, school districts, sports stadiums and event centers, amusement parks, cultural institutions, and national parks, as well as tens of thousands of restaurant workers in hotels and casinos.