The RWDSU represents a number of segments of what are called “food chain workers.” This includes food processing (including poultry workers, dairy workers, and line workers in processed food plants), Distribution workers (including route drivers and warehouse workers), retail workers (at supermarkets and bakeries), and service workers (including cooks and cafeteria workers). Work in the food chain is a large and growing segment of the U.S. economy. The food production, processing, distribution, retail, and service industries collectively sell over $1.8 trillion dollars in goods and services annually, accounting for over 13 percent of the United States Gross Domestic Product. Approximately 20 million people in the U.S. are employed in food chain industries – fully one sixth of the entire U.S. workforce.
Besides poultry, RWDSU members work in a number of food processing fields, including cereals, dairy, and soda bottling.
Hard Work for Low Compensation
Recent studies on industries in the food chain show a workforce that works long hours for low pay, with limited mobility and career opportunities. According to survey data compiled by the Food Chain Workers Alliance, 60 percent of workers in these industries earn poverty wages, with only 13.5 percent earning what can be called a living wage. Forty percent of workers surveyed work over 40 hours a week. Workers report jobs with few health and other benefits and lack of paid days off – hardly a recipe for healthy workplaces, which should concern all U.S. food chain consumers. Workers routinely come into work sick, even during prolonged illnesses, to avoid losing pay or the confidence of supervisors.
The industry is rife with workplace health and safety hazards, and insufficient safety training or equipment provided for workers who routinely work with dangerous machinery. Survey data shows that 57 percent of workers have suffered an injury or illness while on the job.
Workers have also reported little or no ongoing on the job training or opportunities for career advancement.
Unions Make a Difference
When food chain workers join together and win a union and a union contract, they see improved working conditions and better pay. RWDSU contracts help workers form health and safety committees to identify and address health and safety issues in the workplace, and mandate that proper safety equipment is provided and used at work. Paid sick days and time off help workers stay healthy, and helps keep our food supply safe. RWDSU contracts also require training for workers, and create paths to career advancement for food chain workers. Food chain work can be dangerous and demanding