By Chloe Savino
March 31, 2020
When a New Jersey man deliberately coughed on a Wegman’s worker last week, no one questioned why grocery store workers should get extra pay for the risks they are taking by showing up for shifts during the coronavirus pandemic.
Further up the food chain, factory workers and farm hands aren’t seeing the same level of support and alarm bells are starting to ring.
“We’re not getting nothing — no type of compensation, not even no cleanliness, no extra pay,” a worker at a Perdue chicken plant told a local CBS affiliate in Georgia after joining almost 50 employees who walked off the job last Monday. “We’re up here risking our life for chicken.”
The food industry is America’s biggest employer, with 21.5 million workers overall. There’s roughly 2 million in food factories and another at least 3 million who harvest. But they’re among the lowest paid in the country, with rates at times well below minimum wage. And it’s dirty work done mostly by marginalized members of society who don’t have paid sick time-off or health insurance. Protecting them has become the top priority for advocate groups and labor unions that consider more favorable treatment not only as a way to protect workers but also the supply of food to a nervous nation.