Legislation Introduced to Expand USDA Services for Food and Farmworkers

Bills Follow Calls by Food and Farmworkers for Protections in the Next Food and Farm Bill

Published Aug 1, 2023

Media Contact

Groups representing essential food and farmworkers applaud Senators Alex Padilla (D-Cali.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Peter Welch (D-Vt.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) for introducing legislation that would enable the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to better serve these left-behind constituents.

The Supporting Our Farm and Food System Workforce Act would create an Office of the Farm and Food System Workforce, and the Voice for Farm Workers Act would reauthorize and expand the Farmworker Coordinator position within USDA. As the USDA's first worker-focused office, the Office of the Farm and Food System Workforce would provide an opportunity to reshape the corporate-controlled $1.624 trillion dollar food and agriculture industry so that it is more humane, resilient and grounded in the experiences of frontline workers.

“Our farm and food system workers feed the nation and sustain our economy. Too often, lack of access to language services, outreach and USDA programs leaves them vulnerable to challenges including food and housing insecurity, lack of health care access and inadequate job protections,” said Senator Padilla. “These bills would equip the USDA with the tools necessary to integrate workers’ key priorities and viewpoints, including enhancing collaboration across the Department, federal government and with key outside stakeholders.”

“These bills would address some of the disparities farm and food workers have faced from the ways the USDA has operated in the past,” said Nezahualcoyotl Xiuhtecutli, general coordinator of the Farmworker Association of Florida. “We welcome the opportunity to make sure that previous mistakes are not repeated and look forward to the opportunity to work with the USDA to make our food system more equitable and fair. These bills provide a working framework to do that and make sure decisions made about food production and distribution take the needs of workers into consideration.”

“The UFCW is proud to endorse Senator Padilla’s Voice for Farm Workers Act and Supporting Our Farm and Food System Workforce Act,” said Marc Perrone, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW). “These key pieces of legislation would finally give food and agriculture workers a dedicated voice within the agriculture department by creating a Office of Farm and Food System Workforce while allocating resources towards helping the USDA reshape an essential industry that for too long has prioritized corporate profits over both worker and consumer safety.

“As the nation's largest food processing and grocery worker union, we know how hard our food and agriculture members work to ensure grocery shelves are stocked and communities across the country have access to safe and quality food. Even during an unprecedented global pandemic and in record-breaking heat waves, our members get the job done in some of the most dangerous working conditions. The fact is, food and agricultural workers keep America fed, all the while helping to produce massive profits for their employers. Workers across our food supply chain have more than earned their seats at the table when it comes to their own workplace safety and food quality.”

“All of us, no matter who we are or what we look like, deserve safe, good jobs that enable us to provide for our families and communities. We’re thrilled that these two essential bills - the Supporting Our Farm and Food System Workforce Act and the Voice for Farm Workers Act - will devote critical resources to increase services and support for the 21.5 million people working in our food system. By creating an interagency council, Senator Padilla’s bills recognize the foundational importance of food and farm workers to every aspect of our lives” said Navina Khanna, executive director of the HEAL Food Alliance. “These bills also create opportunities for frontline workers’ voices to inform improvements to worker safety oversight, technical assistance, and access to critical programs that could improve the livelihoods of the working people who often toil under brutal climate conditions like heat stress, wildfires and storms, and who are experiencing substandard housing, exposure to toxic pesticides and other hazards.”

“In our work with partners like the Farmworker Association of Florida, La Alianza Agricola and others working directly with food and farmworkers, we have heard repeatedly the need for workers to have a voice in decisions about our food system and access to services and support from the USDA,” said Dr. Ricardo Salvador, director of the Food and Environment Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “After all, without these workers the agricultural and food system of the U.S. would not function. These bills would make it clear that the USDA has a responsibility to the people who plant, tend, harvest, package and serve our food. The next Food and Farm Bill should make the health, safety and representation of food and farmworkers – the people who make the whole ag and food system work – a priority.”

Earlier this month, workers from Georgia, Florida and New York spoke at a congressional briefing about the need to pass a Food and Farm Bill that protects the 21.5 million workers in the food and farming system. At the briefing, organizations representing food and farmworkers, labor, rural interests, agriculture and environmental organizations outlined 10 pragmatic policy recommendations to support and protect food and farmworkers in the next Food and Farm Bill, including establishing a USDA office dedicated to supporting food chain and farm workers, improving conditions for meatpacking workers, enacting labor standards in food procurement, and expanding the mandate of the USDA Farmworker Coordinator with increased staff support.

This summer, extreme heat, wildfire smoke and flash flooding have touched every region of the country, posing a particular risk to food and farmworkers and their families, including loss of income and housing, and voters are taking note. A recent poll by RABA Research found that 80% of voters across the country support more and better workplace protections for workers in food and farming industries.

The Union of Concerned Scientists, HEAL Food Alliance, Farmworker Association of Florida, and United Food & Commercial Workers encourage the Senate and House Agriculture Committees to include the Supporting Our Farm and Food System Workforce Act and the Voice for Farm Workers Act into their draft versions of the Food and Farm Bill expected in September.