FIC Joins Worker Rights Advocates to Protest Corporate Attacks on Food Safety

A growing trend in the food retail industry to sacrifice union jobs to cut costs and pad profits has put the livelihoods of countless workers in jeopardy. One of many examples includes the recent move by grocery chain Giant Food (and its parent company, Netherlands-based Royal Ahold) to outsource hundreds of food distribution jobs from its Maryland warehouse to the non-union C&S Wholesale Grocers location in Pennsylvania. Baltimore Sun reports:

"Giant brought in C&S to do their dirty work and get rid of workers," said Ritchie Brooks, president of [Teamster] Local 730, which represents dry goods and produce workers.

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which represents Giant employees, pointed out in a press release that "Royal Ahold has turned over 30 to 60 percent of its warehouse distribution work to temp agencies to get around strong Dutch labor laws."

forkliftShipping jobs to low-wage warehouses in other states may look good on companies' budget sheets, but it's terrible for workers and food integrity. Distribution mechanisms are a major part of the food supply chain, although rarely discussed. The amount of product, and corresponding quick and massive turnaround, involved at warehouses and distribution centers presents countless opportunities for contamination. It's imperative that workers in these areas have adequate protections, including collective bargaining agreements that allow them to safely speak out against public health concerns.

GAP has often illustrated the inextricable link between employee rights and food safety, and recent moves by industry giants make it clear that neither are high priorities for them. In fact, both C&S and Ahold sit on the Board of Directors, and are high-profile corporate members, of the grocery lobbying organization Food Marketing Institute (FMI), which has fought against legislation that would promote food safety and workers' rights.

FMI's Lobbying Priorities:

  • Repeal of Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (COOL)
  • Stopping the Healthy-Family Act (paid sick leave)
  • Opposition to the Respect Act (which reverses move to slash long-time federal labor law protections of workers' freedom to form unions)
  • Opposition to Employee Free Choice Act (replaces secret ballot with signing a card to decide whether to unionize)

GAP's Food Integrity Campaign is taking it to the streets…and the halls…of Capitol Hill on Wednesday, March 30 (join us on Twitter @foodinteg for live coverage) as we protest and "counter-lobby" against these food conglomerates that are pushing an anti-workers' rights and anti-food integrity agenda.

Not only are we joining Teamsters, United Food & Commercial Workers and others in protest outside FMI's annual public policy meeting in Washington D.C., but we'll also be visiting the offices of elected representatives to explain why food safety and good labor laws are not mutually exclusive. If you have any questions or messages to send to the people in power on these issues, let us know! Tweet us now @foodinteg !

Sarah Damian is Social and New Media Fellow for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower advocacy organization.

 

Comments (5)

  1. Thanks for your comments. Roy, GAP's essential purpose is to support workers' ability to speak up when those management systems fail to function effectively and thus can lead to contamination. New whistleblower rights that affect distribution workers (union or not) have recently passed in the FDA, and GAP is hoping the USDA will do the same. In this case, I'm not referring to compliance but the fact that enhanced protections (such as certain benefits that union contracts provide) allow workers who report problems to be safe from harassment and do their job.
  2. While I am concerned about the rights of workers, I am noty sure about the food safety angle of unionized vs non union ized shops. Safety is brought about when there are management systems in place to control the contamination issues alluded to in this story. It does not matter that we have a non-unionized distribution warehouse. What matters is management commitment and employee practices. If unions improve compliance then fine but there is no evidence for this.

    The distribution step is not forgotten, it is under third party auditing standards but lags behind a bit in terms of conformance and FDA oversight, which should improve. We do need to strengthen this area. In fact, traceability is often lost when repacking occurs with commingling of lots.
  3. Only way to fight it is to get any union groups to boycott the retailers en-mass.
  4. i work for stop and shop warehouse in freetown mass. we r owned by ahold and r loosing our jobs to c&s too. it suc ks that that they can just destroy lives for profits.
  5. Found this interesting.

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