Wage Review Committee Comments 5/24/18
Wage Review Committee Hearing on the Retail Grocery Industry
On May 24, 2018, Pittsburgh City Council members Councilman Rev. Ricky Burgess and Councilman Anthony Coghill were joined by representatives from Mayor Bill Peduto’s administration to reconvene the Wage Review Committee to explore the retail food industry and its Pittsburgh-based workforce. The Councilmen held a Community Hearing with content experts who reviewed research and heard powerful testimony from workers in the retail food industry.
Invited experts included Steve Herzenberg (Executive Director Keystone Research Center), Dr. Alice Julier (Director of Food Studies at Chatham University and CRAFT at Chatham University, Dr. Jeff Shook (University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work), Dawn Plummer (Executive Director Pittsburgh Food Policy Council) and others.
Read Dawn Plummer's comments below:
Good evening. My name is Dawn Plummer and I serve as the Executive Director of the Pittsburgh Food Policy Council. I want to thank Councilman Burgess and Councilman Coghill for inviting me to participate in this important discussion. I would also like to thank the members of our retail food industry workforce--the men and women who facilitate the final stop along our food supply chain before reaching Pittsburgh’s dinner tables.
The mission of the Pittsburgh Food Policy Council is to build a food system that benefits our communities, economy and environment. Our Council convenes over 80 entities across the food system including anti-hunger organizations, public health professionals, government, universities, chefs and restaurants, grocers, farmers and gardeners, and more.
Together we seek to understand and address challenges in agriculture, access to healthy food and our region’s food economy. We believe that our food system should nourish our bodies, take care of our land, air and water resources and create vibrant community spaces. We also believe that food and farming have undertapped potential to create good jobs and economic opportunity.
I want to thank the authors of the report for contributing this important piece of research to an all too often overlooked piece of our food system, which are people. Those of us who work on food policy in our region, particularly on food security, follow a certain work plan. First, we describe the problem (for example, how many people are hungry). Then, we advocate for a social safety net (we support continued federal funding for SNAP, our food stamps program and work to connect people in need to that system). And finally, we provide “emergency” assistance to our neighbors in need (through charity and volunteerism).
As a community dedicated to ending hunger, we must acknowledge that these “emergencies” are now chronic crises that require us to look more deeply at WHAT LIES AT THE ROOT OF food insecurity which is poverty and economic inequality. We must dedicate ourselves to promoting solutions to poverty and economic inequality.
As Steve Herzenberg mentioned, one out of every eight Pennsylvania workers works in our food system. Unfortunately, research shows, as was presented today, that while these jobs are plentiful, the vast majority are low-wage, with little or no access to paid sick days and health benefits, and produce dire consequences. This results in an unacceptable irony: Food workers face higher levels of food insecurity, which is a fancy way of saying...food workers go hungry more often than workers of other sectors of the U.S. workforce.
Another study shows that low-income people and people of color are most negatively impacted by obesity, lack of food security, living in areas without grocery stores, wage and hour violations, and lack of benefits. Despite these truths, “movements for good food and labor rights do not typically work together towards food justice.” Here in Pittsburgh, we are actively working to shift this trend and connect these dots. Some members of our food policy council--including grocers and restaurant owners--are actively pursuing business models that protect our environment, provide healthy food, support our region’s farmers and value their retail workforce by paying living wages.
I want to share a reflection of our May 2017 Candidate Forum on Hunger and Poverty co-hosted by Just Harvest and the Pittsburgh Food Policy Council. Candidates for all levels of political office emphasized two anti-hunger strategies: 1) communities should be able to grow their own food; 2) we should support charitable organizations that provide emergency food. Recently, Mayor Peduto announced that the One Pittsburgh plan will seek to establish a community-based social benefit fund where corporations, large nonprofits, and foundations would all kick in money to tackle big problems facing the city, including hunger and homelessness.
Many of our corporate leaders in southwestern Pennsylvania have made significant contributions to a good food system agenda including work to redistribute retail food waste to hungry people and consistent financial support for the tireless work of our nonprofit emergency food providers.
But we must go further. We need leadership in building a valued and fairly compensated workforce, instead of an expansion of poverty wages. Fair compensation is an anti-hunger strategy; one that goes beyond charity toward justice and dignity for our food systems workforce. An anti-hunger strategy that sustains families and supports healthy communities.
But perhaps most importantly right now, in order to transform our food system, we must not only understand facts and figures, we must get to know the people behind these numbers. When suicide rates among farmers are at a higher rate than any other occupation in the United States, we must listen to farmers. When grocery store workers cannot afford groceries to feed themselves and their families, we must listen to grocery store workers. We must hear their truth and work side by side to create change.
1.The Hands That Feed Us, 2012
Food Chain Workers Alliance. “The Hands That Feed Us, Challenges and Opportunities for Workers Along the Food Chain .” Food Chain Workers Alliance, 6 June 2012, pp. 1–92.
“Good Food and Good Jobs for All.” Race Forward, 14 Apr. 2016, www.raceforward.org/research/reports/good-food-and.... Challenges and Opportunities to Advance Racial and Economic Equity in the Food System
3. 90.5 WESA
Krauss, Margaret J., and Chris Potter. “Peduto Wants Corporation & Nonprofit-Backed Fund To Address Needs Such As Homelessness, Pre-K.” 90.5 WESA, 27 Apr. 2018, wesa.fm/post/peduto-wants-corporation-nonprofit-backed-fund-address-needs-such-homelessness-pre-k#stream/0.
Haflich, Angie. “Study Finds Suicide Rate Among Farmers Higher Than Any Other Occupation.” HPPR, 6 Dec. 2017, hppr.org/post/study-finds-suicide-rate-among-farmers-higher-any-other-occupation.