Our Best Food & Farm Labor Reporting of 2022 | Civil Eats

Our Best Food & Farm Labor Reporting of 2022

This year, we reported on those on the frontline of food, from delivery people and baristas to undocumented workers in factor-scale animal farms, and many more. 

A girl walks with street food vendors calling for legalization of their trade during a march on May Day, on May 1, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. David McNew/Getty Images)

It was the best of times and it was the worst of times for workers in the food system in 2022. While this year saw a rising tide of union organizing among workers all around the U.S., many other food and farm workers are still struggling to earn a living wage and to gain basic protections from injury.

This year, our reporters told stories about the people on the frontlines of the food system–from food delivery people and baristas to undocumented workers in factory-scale animal farms. And, as we do every year, we sought to shine a light on the structural barriers that have allowed a small number of people to profit off the hard work of many.

We also looked into a range of solutions, from the cooperatives gaining ground and reaching more diverse audiences to the restaurant employees who banded together to fund their collective access to reproductive care when Roe vs. Wade was overturned. Here are some of our most important labor stories from 2022.

FRESNO, CALIFORNIA - MAY 17: Lourdes Cardenas, a farm worker originally from Culiacán, Mexico, tends to recently washed clothes on May 17, 2021 in Fresno, California. Cardenas has been a farm worker for 18 years after coming to the U.S. from Culiacán, Mexico. The clothing worn for work are washed daily due to the pesticides used in the farms. Since November 2019, there have been three bills introduced in Congress that would give undocumented food and farm workers as well as unauthorized immigrants, a path to citizenship or legal residency status. The Farm Workforce Modernization Act, which was passed by the House of Representatives in March with bipartisan support after first being introduced in November 2019, would give undocumented farm workers a path to legal residency and protection against detention and deportation. The passage of the bill comes after months of negotiations between members of both parties, United Farm Workers, UFW Foundation, Farmworker Justice, and various national growers organizations. (Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

Farmworkers Bear the Brunt of California’s Housing Crisis
Despite $100 million in recent investments, many of the state’s 400,000 to 800,000 farmworkers live in cramped, unsafe conditions.

Many Restaurants Pay Tipped Workers Next to Nothing. Does that Violate their Civil Rights?
Exclusive: Advocates have advanced a lawsuit against Darden, the nation’s largest full-service restaurant company, for racial and sexual discrimination as a result of paying tipped workers below the minimum wage.

What a Surge in Union Organizing Means for Food and Farm Workers
Amid historic protests, walkouts, and union votes, the pandemic put the impacts of income inequality on stark display—and galvanized a movement.

‘Food Companies Didn’t Get the Memo’—Steven Greenhouse on the New Union Wave
The ‘father of modern labor journalism’ explores why food system workers are fed up—and why the Starbucks union is such a big deal.

The Fight for L.A.’s Street Food Vendors
María Falcon, a mango vendor, speaks out about the NYPD crackdown of alleged violations by the Eric Adams administration.

David White. (Photo courtesy of Appharvest)

What Will the Rise of Giant Indoor Farms Mean for Appalachian Kentucky?
AppHarvest says it’s inventing an industry ‘from scratch,’ but it’s unclear how the upstart will balance its promise to rural people with a move toward automation.

The Next Frontier of Labor Organizing: Food-Delivery Workers
Groups like Los Deliveristas Unidos are organizing delivery workers at Doordash, Uber Eats, and other apps who are demanding better working conditions, despite a lack of employee protections—and often being undocumented.

Jorts the Cat Wants You to Care About Farmworkers’ Rights
Jorts and Jean, some of the internet’s most famous cats, are turning the spotlight on labor organizing.

Inside the Effort to Unionize Square Roots, Kimbal Musk’s Vertical Farming Company
A small team of urban farmers is trying to unionize in Brooklyn, hoping to increase their voice in the workplace. But if union drives at other Musk-led companies are any indication, they face an uphill battle.

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Delio Mantari Pastrana helps to herd a flock of sheep to a field near the U.S.-Mexico border to graze on alfalfa near El Centro, California. (Photo credit: Getty Images)

California’s Sheepherders are at the Center of an Overtime Battle
These workers leave their families behind to work on-call around the clock on H2A visas for years at a time. And while advocates say they deserve more pay, producers worry the industry just doesn’t have the margins.

Inside the Brooklyn Packers’ Vision for a Community-Based Micro Food Hub
The worker-owned, Black-led food cooperative quickly shifted their operation to provide emergency food during the height of the pandemic. Now, they are looking to transition to a longer-term vision of a community-based food hub.

Five of DC Central Kitchen's trainees. Photos by Jake Price

Photo Essay: The Next Generation of DC Central Kitchen Chefs
After three decades of feeding and training low-income residents for jobs in restaurants, the nonprofit is about to dramatically expand its reach.

Food Service Industry Workers Are Organizing to Fund Their Own Reproductive Care
Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade, groups are galvanizing to create the first national fund focused on service workers, including restaurant workers, delivery workers, bartenders, and those working other jobs where tips are central.

Farmworker spraying pesticides on a farm in Jordan. Photo CC-licensed by Seersa Abaza, IWMI.

Most Farmworkers Speak Spanish, but Pesticide Labels Are Often Only Printed in English
Pesticide labels are designed to help prevent dangerous exposure, but the EPA doesn’t ensure most farmworkers can read them—an oversight that has serious implications for their health, and the environment.

Why Aren’t Federal Agencies Enforcing Pesticide Rules That Protect Farmworkers?
Without protection from OSHA, farmworkers rely on EPA’s Worker Protection Standard, which is not adequately enforced.

Co-Op Grocery Stores Expand Their Mission to Equity and Food Justice
As the country faces unprecedented labor and social upheaval, grocery co-ops are embracing deeper approaches to addressing systemic racism.

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For Healthier School Meals, California Bets On More Cooks in the Kitchen
The state is investing $45 million in a program to train more chefs and increase cooking from scratch—but labor shortages remain a significant challenge.

A Milk with Dignity worker in a barn. (Photo courtesy of Migrant Justice)

Animal Agriculture Is Dangerous Work. The People Who Do It Have Few Protections.
Federal OSHA protections don’t apply to 96 percent of the animal agriculture operations that hire workers in America. When people die on the job, the federal agency doesn’t respond 85 percent of the time.

‘I Was Coughing So Hard I Would Throw Up’
Workers at the tens of thousands of hog, chicken, and cow CAFOs in the US face severe respiratory health burdens. The corporate response is risk management.

Tyson Says Its Nurses Help Workers. Critics Charge They Stymie OSHA.
The company’s on-site care system is emblematic of risk-management practices that disadvantage workers farther down the supply chain.

Since 2009, the Civil Eats editorial team has published award-winning and groundbreaking news and commentary about the American food system, and worked to make complicated, underreported stories—on climate change, the environment, social justice, animal welfare, policy, health, nutrition, and the farm bill— more accessible to a mainstream audience. Read more >

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