Our Best Food and Farm Labor Reporting of 2023 | Civil Eats

Our Best Food and Farm Labor Reporting of 2023

This year, we reported on how the Hot Union Summer shook up the food industry, and tackled big questions about worker safety and climate impacts on food and farm workers. 

Nighttime harvesting grapes at Stolpman Vineyars. (Photo credit: Stolpman Vineyards)

(Photo credit: Stolpman Vineyards)

The rising tide of labor organizing accelerated in 2023, as workers from the Hollywood actors’ and writers’ guild and the auto industry earned significant successes.

The food sector was less active on the strike front—aside from the Culinary Union strike in November—but workers earned some significant improvements after the large number of strikes that shook up the industry in 2022. This year saw Chicago abandon the tipped minimum wage, New York City implement a minimum wage for gig delivery workers, and California tussle with the fast food industry by trying to set a minimum wage and revive a regulatory council to support workers.

All is not well in the world of food and farm labor, however. Over the course of the year we reported on industry efforts to roll back hard-won gains on the minimum wage and efforts to build paths to citizenship for immigrants, risks from extreme weather due to climate change, and the perilous nature of work in seafood and animal agriculture. Here are some of our most important stories of the year about the people behind our food.

Farm workers harvest zucchini on the Sam Accursio & Son's Farm in Florida City, Florida. (Photo credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Photo credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Farmworkers Finally Won Overtime Pay. Now the Industry Wants to Repeal It.
As Washington and Oregon move to implement historic overtime laws, ag industry leaders are pushing for exemptions that are leaving them at odds with farmworkers and their advocates.

Congress Killed a Bill to Give Farmworkers a Path to Citizenship. What Comes Next?
A look inside the complicated failure of the Farm Workforce Modernization Act.

All Eyes on California as Fast-Food Worker Rights Land on the 2024 Ballot
The state’s landmark law giving fast-food workers a greater voice was set to start in January—until opponents stalled it with a ballot referendum.

California Farmworkers Are Underwater in More Ways Than One
Farmworkers who can’t work in flooded, damaged fields are losing out on weeks—or months—of wages.

A watercolor-style illustration of a marine observer looking through binoculars at a tuna fishing vessel. (Illustration credit: Tina Zellmer)

Illustration credit: Tina Zellmer

The True Cost of Tuna: Marine Observers Dying at Sea
The harassment, abuse, and sometimes death of the marine observers who uphold sustainable seafood standards are the industry’s worst-kept secrets. Critics say the people and companies that earn the most money on tuna aren’t doing enough to secure their well-being.

Cheap Imports Leave US Shrimpers Struggling With ‘Starvation Wages’
Unable to compete with imports, Louisiana’s shrimpers are calling for emergency action to shore up their shrinking industry.

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Benito Lopez in a crew cleaning a tulip field. In 2022 after a short strike, tulip workers like Lopez, belonging to Familias Unidas por la Justicia, convinced the largest grower, Washington Bulb, to recognize their workers' committee.

Photo credit: David Bacon

Photo Essay: A Cooperative Farm’s Long Path to Liberation for Farmworkers
Tierra y Libertad in northern Washington is the first farmworker-owned co-op in the Pacific Northwest; after years of uncertainty, the group is focused on growing a solidarity economy.

Congress Likely to Preserve OSHA Loophole That Endangers Animal Ag Workers
A 2022 Civil Eats investigation found that a budget rider that prohibits OSHA from spending money to ​regulate small farms leaves most animal-ag operations without oversight. Lawmakers appear poised to renew the rider once again.

Nighttime Harvests Protect Farmworkers From Extreme Heat, but Bring Other Risks
Farmworkers are laboring in the dark more often due to climate change. Experts say more data, and more protections against new risks are needed.

Culinary workers, bartenders, and hotel attendants in Las Vegas picketing earlier this month outside eight casino resorts. (Photo courtesy of Culinary Workers Union Local 226)

A Culinary Worker Strike Could Reshape the Nation’s Restaurants
Thousands of food and beverage workers are striking across the country and demanding higher wages and better protections. The outcome could have ripple effects across the U.S.

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Diving—and Dying—for Red Gold: The Human Cost of Honduran Lobster
The Walton Family Foundation invested in a Honduran lobster fishery, targeting its sustainability and touting its success. Ten years later, thousands of workers have been injured or killed.

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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