Essential workers need our support during COVID-19

Submitted by ctate on

While many of us are fortunate enough to be able to shelter-in-place during these times, essential workers throughout our food supply chains, from farm workers to delivery drivers, are risking their health to ensure food makes it to our tables. There are an estimated 2.5 million farmworkers in America, many of which are migrant workers. This number doesn’t even include all those individuals in processing, retail, or delivery.

Unfortunately, in many cases, workers in our food supply chain may not have paid sick leave, health insurance, or are not being paid fairly for their work, so on top of risking their health to help keep our country running, many of these workers do not have the necessary safety nets and are at great risk from COVID-19.

COVID-19 has impacted all of us and shined a spotlight on injustices throughout our society. Along with these trying times comes the opportunity to reshape a new normal --one where all people are supported; those that are essential are always treated as essential; and creating a society that works for all people and the planet.

Across the world, governments and multinationals are struggling to come up with and agree on solutions, but this new context provides the opportunity for people to come together and support one another unlike we have in the past.

In that spirit, we have compiled a list of actions that you can take (and share!) to support local worker initiatives within the food supply chain and to source or grow food in a way that’s good for workers and the environment. We recognize that this list is far from exhaustive, so if there is a local group in your community that is doing great work to support workers and the planet in our food supply chains, please share them with us!

To support ALL essential workers, call on Congress to pass an Essential Workers Bill of Rights!

Essential workers on the farm

Agriculture workers abroad 

In April, the International Labor Rights Forum, Fair World Project, and the International Union of Food Workers (IUF) Latin America Regional Secretariat released a report documenting long term human and labor rights abuses on melon plantations in Honduras, specifically focused on Fyffes, one of the largest fruit companies in the world and the largest supplier of melons in the US. They found long-term toxic chemical exposure, which can cause lasting health impacts and make workers more vulnerable to COVID-19.

Send an email to Fyffes demanding they treat melon workers with the respect they deserve: Take action here.

Agriculture workers in the US 

The US government estimates that about half of farmworkers in the US are undocumented, so many do not have health insurance or sick leave. Regardless of legal status, our system relies on these workers and takes advantage by not providing the necessary benefits.

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a worker-led human rights organization, is calling on the governor of Florida to protect farmworkers in Immokalee. Support farm workers and call the Florida governor!

Buy directly from the farm 

Many farmers and farmworkers are feeling the impacts of COVID-19, as supply chains to restaurants, universities, and other large purchasers dry up. Some have been able to pivot, selling directly to consumers facing shortages at the grocery store, experiencing health concerns around shopping at large retailers, and looking for ways to support more resilient local food systems. When you purchase directly from farms and eliminate the middleman, more of what you pay goes to farmers, their employees, and their environmental/agricultural values. Purchasing from smaller, local, family farms is a remedy to the corporate consolidation that happens at many levels of the food system.

Check to see if your local farmers market and CSA options have gone virtual. Find and contact your local family farms to see how they’re selling their food.

Essential workers in food and meat processing 

Meat processing factories

Tyson Foods, JBS, and Smithfield, the largest meat producers in the US, “failed to provide protective gear to all works, and some employees say there were told to continue working in crowded plants even while sick”. At the end of April, at least 20 meat processing workers have died.

Venceremos is a newly formed, worker-based organization in Arkansas whose mission is to ensure the human rights of poultry workers. Venceremos is calling on Tyson Foods to protect its workers and provide paid sick leave. Join Venceremos and sign the petition here!

Local and regenerative 

The grave concerns about the health and safety of food workers in meat factories are largely attributed to the huge quantities of meat and rate at which they’re processing. Instead of buying factory farmed and processed meat, consider looking to smaller, local ranchers and processors for meat, dairy, and eggs that come from animals raised in a humane way that’s good for people and the planet. When animals live outside and are processed on a smaller scale, worker safety concerns and localized pollution become less of an issue. Regeneratively managed flocks and herds are also part of the climate solution.

Check out these Certified Green Businesses that are currently delivering food options:

  • KOL Foods: Glatt kosher 100% grass-fed beef, lamb, chicken, turkey, and duck. Wild Alaskan salmon.
  • Frontier Co-op: a full line of culinary herbs, spices, teas, health foods, baking flavors under Frontier Co-op and Simply Organic brands. Personal care and aromatherapy products are also available in the Aura Cacia brand.
  • Amafruits: superfruits from the Amazon in purees, freshly frozen smoothie packs and sorbets
  • Thrive Market: Looking for gluten-free snacks, hypoallergenic cleaning products or organic baby food, there's something for every dietary need and lifestyle online at Thrive Market.
  • Higher Grounds Coffee: 100% Fair Trade and organic. Specializes in small-batch roasting of sustainably grown coffees from all over the world.
  • Grounds for Change: Roasting exclusively Fair Trade, organic, shade-grown coffee for wholesale, retail, and fundraising. Also offering a wide selection of coffee gifts and a coffee-of-the-month club.
  • Equal Exchange: Since 1986 Equal Exchange has been America's pioneer brand for Fair Trade organic coffee, tea, and hot cocoa.

Find local meat, eggs, and dairy here.

Looking for delivery? Explore over 400 entries for good food deliveries from pantry items to meats here.

Buy regenerative meats here.

Essential workers in grocery stores and retailers

Across the retail sector, many chains struggled to respond appropriately to COVID-19, at times resulting in workers not being provided the needed protections. While a few chains did initially increase pay due to the increased risks that workers were being exposed to, large chains, like Kroger and Whole Foods, are now looking to reduce pay back to what it was prior to COVID-19.

It is completely unacceptable for these profitable corporations to end these benefits while workers continue to take health risks!

Amazon/Whole Foods 

On June 1st, Amazon and Whole Foods will end both hazard pay and double overtime – right in the middle of a global pandemic. Workers at Amazon facilities and Whole Foods stores across the country have contracted COVID-19. In early May, the first known Amazon worker died from COVID-19. Amazon and Whole Foods are owned by the wealthiest man in the world, and stocks prices are up during the pandemics. Amazon’s treatment of workers is completely unacceptable and put the entire populations health at risk. Tell Jeff Bezos to respect workers and the planet today!  

Local food hubs

Supporting local food systems is more important than ever in the face of this pandemic. If you don’t like how your grocery store is treating its workers or are fed up with empty shelves, look to decentralized and local food systems. While farms and ranches might only be able to focus on producing a few foods, local food hubs gather the many possibilities and make them accessible to you in one place. Many are offering deliveries or special pick up options right now.

Find your local food hub here. Or, consider joining a local coop or CSA program.


For many delivery drivers, like those that work for Instacart or Uber, they do not have access to benefits like paid sick leave because of their classification. Gig Workers Rising is a campaign supporting and educating app and platform workers who are organizing for better wages, working conditions, and respect. In the COVID-19 context, individuals, like those driving for Instacart, are often the final step in getting your food, but they do not have proper safety protections from their employer due to misclassification.

Additionally, delivery apps often take a percentage of the profits from the restaurant, leaving already struggling restaurants with even less. If you are able, try to prioritize picking up your food instead to ensure that restaurants get 100% their profits.

Check out their resources to better understand issues facing gig workers and to get involved whether you are a rider or a driver!

Mutual aid funds 

If you are looking for other ways to support those in need, mutual aid funds are a great option. Check out this extensive list of mutual aid funds across the country. You may even be able to find one that is supporting your own community!

What you can do in your home

With so much uncertainty around the stability of supply chains and the safety of workers, many are turning to gardening at home. Growing your own food means you know exactly where and how your food was grown, which is more than can be said about a lot of the food we find at the store. Gardening is a great lockdown activity, can contribute to your own food security, and can relieve some of the pressure on our ailing food system. You can garden in a way that grows good food and is a boon for the environment. During WWII millions of Americans grew 40% of US produce at home.  We can do that again!

Learn how to grow a Climate Victory Garden.

Buying fair trade 

Many grocery chains now carry fair trade options, so in addition to taking action, you can use your purchasing power to increase the demand for fair trade products. Take a look at this resource to learn more about what you are supporting when you by fair trade. By increasing the demand for fair trade products, your purchases will help to reshape our economy to one that treats all workers fairly!

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