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Food Workers Need Union, Livable Wage, Report Says

A Burlington-based nonprofit called the Vermont Fair Foods Campaign released a report Thursday on working conditions in the state’s food industry. The group based the report on a survey of 168 food service workers across the state.

Workers cited low wages, no paid sick leave and unaffordable health care among their biggest concerns. Twenty-five percent of the workers surveyed said they either lost wages or had to work while sick.

23-year-old Sam Cliff has been working in food service since he was in high school. He said the lack of regular work shifts are another major issue for workers.

“Many struggle with inconsistent hours and schedules. And when you don’t know how many hours you’ll be working, or when, it’s hard to plan life outside of work. It’s hard to know if you’re going to be able to pay the bills,” he said.

The Vermont Fair Food Campaign made a number of recommendations in their report, including organizing a union and enacting policies that provide livable wage jobs.

Kelly Mangan is an organizer with the Fair Food Campaign. She says that in Vermont, where there is interest in foods that are local and sustainable, that attitude should extend to workers as well.

Mangan thinks that a coalition of food employers would be successful in Vermont. She envisions a fair food certification program.

“It would also allow consumers to look for the Vermont Fair Food label, and make their buying decisions based on whether or not those Vermont-based companies have good labor practices and standards," Mangan said. 

Mangan did say that some workers gave their employers high marks in the survey.

She hopes those employers who rated well influence other companies to develop better labor practices.