Can We Finally Treat Food Workers Fairly?

By:  Mark Bittman

Two pieces of seemingly unrelated news last week show just how deficient our values are when it comes to the treatment of thelowest paid workers in our economy, the largest portion of whom are employed in the food chain.

First, Los Angeles followed Seattle and San Francisco in setting its minimum wage at $15 per hour. With New York looking as if it might join the club, $15 could become the new, de facto $7.25, the current federal minimum hourly wage. (As I’ve mentioned before, many tipped workers make even less than that.) A couple of days later, Walmart, among the worst offenders in the realm of labor abuse, announced that it would push its suppliers for improvements in ... animalwelfare.

If Walmart’s new rules are enforced, they’d be stricter and more humane than any set by federal agencies. But the standards are voluntary, vague and without a deadline; and the company has a history of not following through on its promises.

And what does it say that you can buy a can of tuna guaranteed to be dolphin-safe but can’t guarantee that its human producers — fishers, processors, transporters, packers, sales representatives — haven’t been abused?

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