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Amherst, Massachusetts - October 23, 2015

Field to Fork Labor in the Mass Food system Conference
 
Close to 100 Massachusetts labor and food activists gathered at UMASS Amherst to discuss cutting edge initiatives to bring the food and labor movement closer together. The goal of the Field to Fork one-day conference was to connect workers from across the food spectrum and to include them within the “Food Justice Frame.” There is an incredibly amount of activism around the country, and especially in Massachusetts, around quality and local food as well as animal welfare.  Increasingly, however, worker well-being is being recognized as essential to complete the food justice frame. 
 
Invited by UMASS Labor Center colleagues, Executive Director, Cathleen Caron presented on the morning panel, “Defining the Problem: What do we know about about conditions in the MA Food System.” Joining her on the panel were representatives from the Central West Justice Center Migrant Unit, Centro Comunitario de Trabjadores, and the UMass Labor Center. Cathleen focused her comments on an often missing piece of the worker demographics, temporary foreign workers.  She reviewed the available statistics to paint a picture of the temporary foreign worker who could be in the in the MA food system.  
 
Interestingly, MA has astonishingly high numbers, almost 6,000 of J-1 visa Summer Work Travel laborers, many of whom staff restaurants in Cape Cod and Nantucket.  MA is in a very close fourth nationally, after states with much higher populations, such as New York, Florida and California. However, due to a lack in transparency (hence the advocacy in Congress to pass legislation on this issue), it is impossible to know how many MA employers are now relying on temporary foreign visa workers instead of employing MA residents.  Cathleen finished her presentation by explaining why these workers in MA on other visas such as H-2A (457 agricultural workers certified by DOL in 2013), and H-2B (217 ”food prep workers”) are particularly vulnerable to exploitation, due to the high debts they incur to come to the United States and the fact they are “tied” to the employer who brings them.  She briefly laid out the Global Workers Defender Network model and how Global Workers ensures portable justice for these workers.
 
Massachusetts has an incredible amount of organizing around food justice. We look forward to pioneering projects and national leadership around worker justice in the food system.
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