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A Dime a Day for Food Worker Justice

Amy Traub

Happy Food Day! The Center for Science in the Public Interest has designated October 24 as a day “to address issues as varied as health and nutrition, hunger, agricultural policy, animal welfare, and farm worker justice.” It’s a good idea, and to mark the occasion, I’d share an organic apple from my CSA if I could.

But community Supported Agriculture, home gardens, and farmers’ markets aside, most of what we eat doesn’t jump straight from the soil to our mouths. In many cases, there’s hard work in between from not only farm workers but also food processing plant workers, warehouse laborers, truck drivers, supermarket employees, and restaurant workers – all of whom could use a little more justice in their work lives. Regarded as a whole, the country’s food system is the leading employer of minimum wage workers nationwide. That means raising the minimum wage would do a tremendous amount of good for workers in the food system. What’s more, it would cost us eaters very little.

For just a dime day increase in food costs, explains a new report from the Food Labor Research Center, the Food Chain Workers Alliance and the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, nearly 8 million food workers and 21 million workers in other industries would see their wages boosted by a minimum wage hike. The 10 cents per day cost estimate is based on average household spending on both restaurant meals and grocery bills.

The report analyzes the impact of the Fair Minimum Wage Act sponsored by Senator Tom Harkin and Rep. George Miller, which would increase the national minimum wage to $9.80 per hour over three years, would fix the minimum wage for tipped employees at 70 percent of the non-tipped minimum, and would index both to inflation. And if increasing the pay of more than 28 million working Americans isn’t enough reason to enjoy some sweet potato pie, the new report also reminds us of an analysis by the Economic Policy Institute finding that the Miller/Harkin minimum wage bill would add $40 billion to the economy  through higher wages, create 100,000 net jobs and boost the GDP by about $25 billion. Let’s pass it before next Food Day.