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Labor Study Advocates Better Wages, Working Conditions

LOS ANGELES — The 20 million people who work at all levels of the food distribution system do not receive sustainable wages or basic benefits, putting the nation's food supply at "tremendous risk," according to a study scheduled to be released today.

The study was conducted by the Food Chain Workers Alliance here — a coalition of worker-based organizations, founded in 2009, whose members plant, harvest, pack, transport, prepare, serve and sell food.  According to its website, the alliance strives to build a more sustainable food system that respects workers' rights and seeks to organize the industry to improve wages and working conditions.

According to the study, only 13.5% of the 629 food workers surveyed earned a livable wage, with most working in environments with health and safety violations; working long hours with few breaks; and having limited access to health benefits.

Among 47 employers interviewed across the U.S., the study said most agreed that providing better wages, working conditions and advancement opportunities decreases turnover and increases productivity, though "many admitted to not actually engaging in these practices.  Nevertheless, the fact that employers agree in principle indicates there is potential for industry change," the study noted.

The study recommended that policymakers increase minimum wages and work with employers to develop greater pathways for career mobility and guarantee workers the right to organize and be protected from retaliation for organizing.  It also said employers should enhance job quality by increasing wages and benefits; adopting fair hiring and promotion practices; and respecting workers' right to freedom of association and collective bargaining.

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