Op-Ed: Food System Should Work for Main Street, Not Wall Street

Today, the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1473  and Wisconsin Farmers Union (WFU) jointly called on federal, state, and local governments to take stronger steps to better protect from adverse impacts of COVID-19 the health, safety and livelihoods of the farmers and workers who put food on our table. The groups also called for new economic development strategies that empower workers to bargain collectively for better wages and safer worker conditions, and that empower farmers to get fairer share of the food dollar. 

“Empowering farmers to get a fair price, and workers to get a fair wage, is a trickle-up economic strategy,” said John Eiden, president of UFCW Local 1473.  “It is based on the sound premise that Wisconsin’s farmers and workers are more likely to spend that extra money with local businesses than are the out-of-state agribusiness conglomerates whose business model is based on paying farmers and workers as little as they can to provide ever higher returns to their shareholders. Our strategy will make Main Street the priority over Wall Street.”

“The pandemic has shown with brutal clarity that the meat supply chain works to benefit a handful of multinational corporations, while workers and family farmers are treated as expendable,” said Wisconsin Farmers Union President Darin Von Ruden. “Government at every level has a role to play in restoring this balance of power that has shifted too far in favor of the agribusiness monopolies. The straightforward policies we advocate can begin to accomplish that today.”

The farmer-labor alliance of Farmers Union and UFCW is calling for immediate interventions to protect workers from harm due to COVID-19 and insulate family farmers from economic loss, including : (1) increased worker testing at meatpacking plants, (2) priority access to PPE for all meatpacking workers, (3) halting line speed waivers, (4) mandating social distancing inside meatpacking plants, and (5) isolating workers with symptoms or who test positive for COVID-19;and (6) relief payments prioritizing small and medium-sized farms and not accelerating the problem of oversupply and consolidation.

The groups are also demanding the following actions be taken to repair structural weaknesses in our economy that have now been exposed by the COVID pandemic. These include strengthening workers’ right to freedom of association, organize a union and bargain collectively for better wages, and safer working conditions for workers. The groups also call for fairer prices and markets for farmers through stronger antitrust enforcement, reinstatement of Country of Origin Labeling (COOL), and dairy supply management.