Does Your Food Label Guarantee Fair Farmworkers’ Rights?

Most labels address how food is grown. The Agricultural Justice Project also focuses on how the people behind the food are treated.

By Lela Nargi, Farm Labor, Food Justice        April 29, 2019


There’s an ever-growing preponderance of “eco-labels” in the food marketplace—203 in the U.S. alone, by one count. Inspired by an “increased demand for ‘green’ products,” according to a 2014 study in the Journal of Business Ethics, these labels alert consumers to everything from animal welfare to whether the food was grown without chemicals, GMOs, or harm to forests and birds. American consumers can seek out a fair trade label ensuring the well-being of banana and coffee growers and communities in Southeast Asia, South America, or Africa. But very few labels make such claims for food workers here in the United States.

One organization bucking this trend is the Agricultural Justice Project (AJP), a non-profit in Gainesville, Florida, that’s committed to the fair treatment of workers all along the food chain. AJP has been offering worker-justice-related certification and labeling since 2011, before the Equitable Food Initiative or Fair Trade USA (FTUSA) dipped their toes into the domestic arena, certifying their first farms here in 2014 and 2016 respectively.

Agricultural Justice Project AJP logoRegardless of the size of a farm or other food-related business, AJP’s Food Justice Certification program requires that an employer offer workman’s comp, disability, unemployment coverage, social security, unpaid sick leave, maternity/paternity leave, “comprehensive requirements to ensure safe working conditions” even for migrant and seasonal workers, in addition to environmental standards—all with USDA Organic certification as its baseline.

Last November, AJP granted certification to its sixth business, Grafton, New York-based Soul Fire Farm, whose co-founder Leah Penniman recently received a Leadership Award from the James Beard Foundation for her commitment to tackling racism in the food system. AJP’s rigorous audit can be daunting, and its label is largely unknown to consumers. So, the decision to get certified was not a decision that Soul Fire’s founders took lightly. A firm belief in the concept, and a desire to see more farms engage in the process, convinced them to put in the time and effort.

“As thought leaders who are becoming more of a recognizable name, part of doing this certification was to say, ‘we believe in the values this represents,’ and to uplift the process,” says Soul Fire’s co-director, Larisa Jacobson.

Most of the Soul Fire Farm team. (Photo credit: Soul Fire Farm, courtesy of AJP)Most of the Soul Fire Farm team. (Photo credit: Soul Fire Farm, courtesy of AJP)

Certainly, more farmers, food workers, and consumers are likely to now learn about AJP through Soul Fire’s connection to it. As a result, it’s possible more farms and food business will deem AJP certification a worthy pursuit, and more consumers will seek out its label. But the label is not AJP’s stand-alone goal. Much of the organization’s heavy lifting occurs behind the scenes, where it seeks to influence discussions about food worker rights in ways often less visible than its quiet (for the moment) third-party certification scheme.

Behind the Scenes

Farm work ranks as one of the most exploitative and dangerous jobs of the 21st century, responsible in the U.S. for the second-highest number of deaths in 2017 (260) after truck driving. About 20,000 workers on American farms contract acute pesticide poisoning every year. Additionally, since many farm workers are migrants, they’re exempt from labor laws meant to protect against wage theft, poor living conditions, and poor treatment—including physical and sexual abuse—according to a report by fair-trade nonprofit Fair World Project. Similar dangers exist in restaurants, too, and in grocery stores.

Leah Cohen, AJP’s general coordinator, first cottoned to the cause at the root of the organization’s mission after driving a mobile dental clinic around migrant worker camps in Oregon. “I thought I was making a difference, but as I started to peel back the layers, I realized a dental van doesn’t do anything [about] the pesticide-drenched earth, holes in unheated [residential] shacks, living in fear of being separated from your family and deported, or wage theft,” she says. “Likewise, it’s not going to do anything for farmers who can’t make enough to cover the cost of production, regardless of whether they pay a working wage to their employees.”

These issues were top of mind for AJP’s five founders from the beginning. Elizabeth Henderson, who’s also a founding member of the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA), currently sits on AJP’s board. She and her collaborators fought to write worker rights into the fabric of the USDA’s National Organic Program. When they failed, in 1999, they decided to write up their own standards. They intensively researched the issue and reached out to a wide swath of stakeholders in the early aughts, conducted pilot audits in 2006 and 2007, then officially began offering certification in 2011.

Still, the certification process—which Henderson calls “very much against the grain”—is not the main point. Rather, it’s the “bigger impacts on the consciousness of the organic movement” that is the true measure of what she and her partners set out to achieve.

For example, the new Regenerative Organic Certification (ROC), which is led by a coalition that includes the Rodale Institute, Dr. Bronner’s, and Patagonia and is currently in its pilot phase, did not originally include rights for farmers in its social fairness pillar. “Because of the advocacy of our AJP team members and allies, [ROC] added farmer rights standards,” says Cohen. Other examples of AJP’s influence are found in the evolution of Whole Foods Market’s Responsibly Grown program, Fair Trade USA’s standards, and Ben & Jerry’s Caring Dairy Program. “This work takes years of organizing, and sometimes results in official organizational transformation if we are patient and persistent,” Cohen says.

farmworkers picking and bagging potatoesAnother way change comes to pass is when farms and food businesses hire AJP to provide technical assistance to various aspects of their operations. Even though they might not make it all the way through to certification, according to Cohen, “they take bits and pieces and incorporate them to make improvements” to bringing their workers into the decision-making process, for example.

AJP receives grant money from ecologically conscious organizations such as Dr. Bronner’s and the Clif Bar Family Foundation (CBFF). (Editor’s note: Civil Eats has also received funding from CBFF.) “There are not that many groups out there trying to create market incentives for social change in the food system, and we felt that was worth investing in,” says CBFF director of programs for food systems and economics Allen Rosenfeld.

Would Clif Bar also consider adopting AJP’s label for its own products? “Our cross-functional sustainable sourcing team has met with AJP and we continue to evaluate their certification program, as well as others that could meet our social justice goals,” Clif Bar & Company communications manager Dean Mayer explained by email to Civil Eats. “We’re also exploring the development of our own proprietary programs for smallholder farmers.”

One way or the other, with or without formal adoption of its Food Justice Certification label, AJP seems to be managing to steer the conversation toward greater worker fairness.

What’s in a Label?

Eco-labels pose something of a conundrum; the more of them turn up in the marketplace, the wider the so-called “credibility gap” grows, as consumers struggle to understand what the labels’ promises effectively mean (if anything).

As the Business Ethics study pointed out, “an eco-label may or may not involve an open- and consensus-based standard-setting process…may or may not be under government control…can be first-, second-, or third-party [certified], by verifiers who may or may not be accredited.” Additionally, since “labeling schemes are voluntary standards that are developed by private institutions … there is no commonly accepted legal standard” for them.

The confusion is compounded when it comes to social justice issues, says Magali Delmas, director of the UCLA Center for Corporate Environmental Performance and author of The Green Bundle: Pairing the Market with the Planet. “The question is, what is the tangible benefit, and how can we clearly convey [that] to the consumer? This is still a work in progress,” she says, “because it’s more difficult to measure and communicate social impact than it is environmental [benefit].”

But for consumers willing to do a little independent research, this is becoming easier. Consumer Reports rates food labels on its Greener Choices site. It calls AJP’s Food Justice Certification, conducted by third-party certified entities accredited in organics, “highly meaningful,” and confirms that its standards set a high bar.

Fair World Project (FWP) published a report called Justice in the Fields in 2016, specifically to evaluate seven farmworker justice certification labels—including AJP’s.

“Labor justice labels are important; just because something is grown organically or comes from a ‘local’ farm, that’s no guarantee that the people who grew it were treated well,” says FWP’s executive director, Dana Geffner. Her organization gave AJP a top rating because of what it calls the meaningful impact of its standards: “It’s one of the only certifications out there in the hired labor category looking to eliminate piece rate work”—paying per piece or per pound of produce picked rather than hourly—and “they also consider all the participants in the supply chain: farmers, workers, and retailers.”

Higher Level Organics in Viola, Wisconsin, became the seventh AJP-certified farm this month—the first hemp producer in the world to certify as fair trade. “It’s simply the right thing to do [a]s hemp production continues to rise…[and] an increase in agricultural labor [becomes] necessary,” founder Luke Zigovits said in a company press release.

A berry farm worker packing a carton of strawberries. (Photo credit: Swanton Berry Farm, courtesy of AJP)Photo credit: Swanton Berry Farm (courtesy of AJP)

Swanton Berry Farm in Davenport, California has a union for its workers—a deeper commitment to the tenets of their AJP food justice certification. For Nancy Vail and husband Jered Lawson, co-owners of Pie Ranch in nearby Pescadero, AJP certification is deeply linked to their farm’s outreach to local youth and its partnership with the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band, whose ancestors once worked the surrounding land before “suffering the most outrageous trauma, genocide, and exploitation you can imagine” at the hands of white colonists, says Vail.

AJP certification doesn’t translate into a price premium for the food Pie Ranch grows, like an organic label does, and Vail says the pore-scouring process takes an enormous time and resource toll. But, she says, “We still feel committed to staying certified, to keep the conversation alive.”

For Brandon Kane, general manager of the GreenStar Food Co-op in Ithaca, New York (currently in the process of recertifying), “AJP was a natural extension of expressing our values—marketable proof that we are living up to our self-imposed expectations around a living wage [for our 225 employees] and supporting [over three dozen] farmers.”

Young People Can’t Buy Homes Until Older Owners … Move On

Bloomberg – Business

Young People Can’t Buy Homes Until Older Owners … Move On

Conor Sen, Bloomberg       April 25, 2019

An Indigenous Community Finds its Agricultural Roots

Civil Eats

An Indigenous Community Finds its Agricultural Roots in Tucson’s San Xavier Farm

After securing much-needed water rights, the co-op farm on the Tohono O’odham reservation is honoring thousands of years of the tribe’s farming history.

By Rudri Bhatt Patel, Indigenous Foodways     April 25, 2019

In a quiet part of Tucson, Arizona, only a few miles southwest of the city center, the San Xavier Cooperative Farm honors the agricultural legacy of the Tohono O’odham, a Native American tribe that has farmed the land for over 4,000 years. Located on the ancestral village of Walk, the 860-acre operation, one of the few farms on an Indian reservation at last count, is a lush green oasis in the otherwise dry desert.

Julie Ramon-Pierson, president of the San Xavier Co-op board, grew up hearing stories about her grandparents and great-grandparents cooking traditional O’odham foods such as tepary beans, squash, and corn, and she remembers seeing her mother harvest and clean the native beans. She hopes the co-op will help resurrect narratives like the ones she was raised with.

“The primary goal of the co-op is to create economic development in the community, re-educate people about traditional foods so they can prepare them at home to adopt a healthier lifestyle, and preserve O’odham values, like respect of land, plants, animals, and elders,” she says.

The Tohono O’odham Nation spans 4,460 square miles in Southern Arizona and includes 28,000 enrolled tribal members. The land is divided into 11 districts, and the San Xavier District is home to about 2,300 members. Founded in the early 1970’s, the co-op leases farmland from the landowners, called allottees, and about 90 percent of its 25 to 28 employees are O’odham tribe members, according to Gabriel Vega, the co-op’s farm manager for 13 years.

The welcome sign outside the entrance reflects this agricultural history; it is a shield painted with a traditional planting stick and feathers representing a blessing. In the center is a sprouting seed, considered “new life,” and the four parts represent seasons containing the cycle of the sun, rain, moon, and wildlife. (Photo by Rudri Patel)The welcome sign outside the entrance reflects this agricultural history; it’s a shield painted with a traditional planting stick and feathers representing a blessing. In the center is a sprouting seed, considered “new life,” and the four parts represent seasons containing the cycle of the sun, rain, moon, and wildlife. (Photo by Rudri Patel)

While the co-op grows alfalfa as its primary money-maker, other parts of the property are home to orange, plum, and apple orchards; an assortment of vegetable crops; and native foods such as tepary, pima lima, black, and white beans, wild mesquite trees, and pima wheat.

In addition to growing and selling crops, the co-op hosts blessing and spiritual ceremonies and provides educational opportunities for the tribal community. In early March, for example, it hosted a cooking and culture workshop for women tribe members.

Jacelle Ramon-Sauberan, a doctoral student at the University of Arizona, is focusing her dissertation research on water and land rights, as well as the impact of the San Xavier Co-op. She sees the co-op’s impact as three-fold: “It keeps traditional ecological knowledge alive, assists with food sovereignty, and allows the community to know its history,” she says.

There is a real effort, says Ramon-Sauberan, to keep doors open and educate people. If a member of the O’odham community wants to learn how to cultivate a certain food, she says, the co-op creates a teaching space to achieve this goal. More importantly, this attitude helps foster a “communal spirit among the members” that extends beyond the organization.

Bringing the Water Back

Though the O’odham has built an agricultural history in the Sonoran Desert over the course of thousands of years—one that recently helped earn Tucson the honor of becoming the first U.S. city designated a UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy—the tribe’s farming legacy has been threatened in recent decades by a conflict over the desert city’s limited water supply.

Traditionally, the O’odham people structured their fields to channel water into planting areas, using the Santa Cruz River as the main source. When Tucson began to develop, however, its water demands drained the aquifers from the area, and by 1950, Vega says, “much of the agriculture ceased.”

Farm manager Gabriel Vega has worked for San Xavier Co-op for 13 years. (Photo by Rudri Patel)Farm manager Gabriel Vega has worked for San Xavier Co-op for 13 years. (Photo by Rudri Patel)

When the farm formed in 1971, it fought to reclaim tribal water rights and reintroduce farming practices that had been halted during the dry years. In 1975, the San Xavier District sued the City of Tucson over water rights. Ten years later, the Southern Arizona Water Rights Settlement Act granted an allotment of 56,000 acre-feet of water yearly from the Central Arizona Project—enough to sustain roughly 900 acres of land.

“Water to this community is a sacred element,” Vega says. “To have a running flow of water is fulfilling the prayers of the O’odham people.”

During the period when water supplies were nonexistent, the connection between the land and its people diminished, according to Vega. “Wells went dry, farming decreased, and it led to the decline of mesquite trees,” which in turn led to the loss of agriculture and tradition, and a rise in diet-related diseases like diabetes.

When water returned, it opened the door to reintroduce native foods, a healthier way of living, and a pathway to reconnect to the land. And that’s where San Xavier comes in.

Even with the busy undercurrent of activity, the farm is a tranquil space where a palpable sense of peace permeates the air. This isn’t accidental, according to Vega. “Many of the O’odham elders wanted this area to return to an agricultural community,” he says.

Reconnecting with Tradition by Saving Seeds and Cultivating Wild Plants

Although the water has returned to the area and re-enabled agriculture, healthy eating habits are slower to catch up. Vega says for many people the reality of day-to-day life on the reservation includes fast food.

To reverse this trend, San Xavier Co-op is preserving the “genetic resources” stored in seeds. Though the O’odham have 19 different varieties of corn, San Xavier has access to only two. Recently, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) awarded the farm a grant to build a 2,400-square-foot cold storage facility to preserve its seeds.

“The plan is to go door-to-door in the community and see if families have corn seeds that were lost in the last few decades,” Vega says.

A large nursery houses several different varieties of seeds. (Photo by Rudri Patel)A large nursery houses several different varieties of seeds. (Photo by Rudri Patel)

Organizations like Native Seeds/SEARCH (NS/S) help preserve indigenous seeds and serve as a repository to protect cultural heritage. Although there isn’t an official partnership in place, Laura Neff, an associate at NS/S, says that San Xavier Co-op recently received two community seed grants from the organization. Additionally, San Xavier sells its products in the Native Seed/SEARCH retail store. With efforts like these, the O’odham people may be able to return to the foods their ancestors enjoyed.

Another focus at San Xavier is cultivating wild foods. In the past, the O’odham relied on the pods of mesquite trees to supply them with protein. Once the pods dry, the O’odham harvest, mill, and eventually turn them into flour. “Traditionally it was eaten with water, and these high nutrients provided energy,” Vega says.

Diversity of Sustainable Crops

San Xavier Co-op remains viable—and able to aggressively pursue growing native foods—“because it invests in alfalfa crops, its best-seller on the farm,” Ramon-Pierson says. But the focus on income doesn’t mean sacrificing what is good for the land, Vega emphasizes. The co-op is Certified Naturally Grown, he says, which means it grows everything without synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, or GMOs.

“This farming community has been here for several thousand years, and there is an intentional purpose to how the O’odham use the land,” says nursery coordinator Cie’na Schalaefli. Keeping it chemical-free helps the tribe maintain its traditional values.

Orchards line the property near the side of the farm. (Photo by Rudri Patel)Orchards line the property near the side of the farm. (Photo by Rudri Patel)

The co-op has also formed a partnership with the Compost Cats program through the University of Arizona, a student-run organization that collects food waste and scraps from local businesses, processes the material at the San Xavier Co-op, and sells it as compost to the community.

The co-op constantly looks for ways to diversify its offerings in order to stay afloat, Vega says. San Xavier has a blossoming partnership with both the food bank community and Tucson schools, says Ramon-Pierson, where it sells broccoli and melons. It also runs a catering business that blends seasonal indigenous O’odham foods with non-traditional items like tortillas and tamales.

Several other projects are in the works or already underway, Vega says. “Bridgestone, the tire company, recently contacted the co-op about the Gualye, a woody shrub which thrives in the desert Southwest,” he says. The interest is to produce rubber for tires. There’s also the possibility that pork production could begin on the property, he adds.

Giving Back to the Community

Even though the farm looks for numerous ways to be profitable, the O’odham Nation is the first priority. Workshops like the Wild Harvest teach community members how to harvest, process, and prepare traditional foods such as cholla buds from a cacti, also known as ciolim, mesquite, and prickly pear.

A colorful mural serves as a reminder of San Xavier’s ancestral roots. (Photo by Rudri Patel) 

“Once they learn how to harvest, they can do this on their land at home, bring it back to the farm, and we pay them by the pound,” Vega says. This fosters economic resiliency and a way to reintroduce traditional foods to children and families.

The workshops also cover the basics of how to cook foods like tepary beans—which can easily boiled in water with chiles—and sends participants home armed with how to search for online recipes used in making traditional O’odham meals. A resurgence of traditional foods, according to Ramon-Sauberan at the University of Arizona, is working to reduce the rates of diabetes and other health issues among the O’odham people.

San Xavier Co-op’s multi-pronged approach to caring for its community, is merely a “continuation of what’s in their ancestral genes,” Vega says. “Not many spaces that allow you to pay your bills, take care of your elders, and adopt a healthy way of living.”

Trump thinks the Supreme Court can save him from impeachment (it can’t)


The Rachel Maddow Show / The MaddowBlog

Trump thinks the Supreme Court can save him from impeachment (it can’t)

By Steve Benen        April 24, 2019

US Judge Brett Kavanaugh speaks after being nominated by US President Donald Trump (L) to the Supreme Court in the East Room of the White House on July 9,… SAUL LOEB


Now that he’s placed two far-right jurists on the Supreme Court, Donald Trump seems convinced that the nation’s highest bench will effectively serve as a rubber stamp, clearing the way for everything he wants.

The White House agenda on DACA? The president expects the Supreme Court to rule his way. Birthright citizenship? The president expects the Supreme Court to rule his way. Redirecting funds through an emergency declaration? The president expects the Supreme Court to rule his way. Tearing down his own country’s health care system? The president expects the Supreme Court to rule his way.

Two senior administration officials told NBC News in November that “with Justice Brett Kavanaugh now on the Supreme Court,” the White House “expects to win.”

With this mind, consider Trump’s latest mini-tantrum on Twitter.

“The Mueller Report, despite being written by Angry Democrats and Trump Haters, and with unlimited money behind it ($35,000,000), didn’t lay a glove on me. I DID NOTHING WRONG. If the partisan Dems ever tried to Impeach, I would first head to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Not only are there no ‘High Crimes and Misdemeanors,’ there are no Crimes by me at all. All of the Crimes were committed by Crooked Hillary, the Dems, the DNC and Dirty Cops – and we caught them in the act! We waited for Mueller and WON, so now the Dems look to Congress as last hope!”

Much of this is gibberish, including the assertions that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s findings uncovered no evidence of criminal wrongdoing. Reality tells a different story, especially as it relates to obstruction of justice.

It’s also bizarre that the erratic president believes his opponents have been “caught in the act” of committing crimes – misdeeds that exist only in Trump’s mind.

But what may matter most is Trump’s intention to “head to the U.S. Supreme Court” if congressional Dems launch an impeachment effort.

We’re occasionally reminded of just how little our amateur president understands about the basics of American governance and civics. We’re also reminded that Trump doesn’t feel the need to ask anyone for clarifications about how the system works, since his misplaced confidence overshadows his ignorance.

But as someone really ought to let the president know, Congress is responsible for initiating, overseeing, and executing the impeachment process. Lawmakers, and no one else, determine whether a president has committed impeachable acts.

Trump could “head to the U.S. Supreme Court,” but there’s literally nothing justices could do for him, even if they wanted to. The judiciary has no authority to help or hinder the impeachment proceedings.

The president doesn’t know that, and while that’s embarrassing, he nevertheless seems eager to let everyone know just how confused he is.

In the process, Trump is also offering a peek into his perspective on problem-solving. When he finds himself in a jam, the president seems to instinctively look for a fixer: Trump has spent his tenure assuming that everyone from his attorney general to his congressional allies to his White House counsel can simply make his problems go away for him.

As of this morning, the president seems to think the Supreme Court can even rescue him from the threat of impeachment.

It cannot.

Fast Food Workers Can Be Fired For No Reason


The New York City Council is considering “just cause” legislation to enshrine fairness and dignity for fast food workers. It could become a model for other cities and industries.

Nadra Nittle, Food and Farm Labor          April 24, 2019

Taco Bell employees at the Barksdale Base Exchange in Louisiana. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Joanna M. Kresge.)


Francis Gomez vividly remembers the day she was fired from her cashier job at a Taco Bell in Queens, New York. Just before last Christmas, she showed up for her shift when a manager told her, “Don’t clock in; you’re terminated.” The firing stunned Gomez, 27, who had worked on and off for the fast food chain since 2014.

Francis Gomez. (Photo courtesy of SEIU 32BJ)

Francis Gomez. (Photo courtesy of 32BJ SEIU)

“I was completely surprised. I was accused of disrespecting a customer, but there was no customer complaint,” she said. “When I asked for a letter, I was basically told, ‘You’re already terminated, so it doesn’t matter.’”

Taco Bell hasn’t responded to Civil Eats’ request for comment about its firing practices, but stories like Gomez’s are one of the reasons New York City Council members Brad Lander and Adrienne Adams have introduced “just cause” legislation to give fast food workers more job protection. The bill prohibits fast food companies from firing workers or significantly reducing their hours without a stated reason and would give employees the chance to correct their behavior before termination. With this legislation, New York City could lead the nation in offering job security for fast food workers.

Tsedeye Gebreselassie, president of Fast Food Justice, an organization that fights for workplace improvements for fast food employees, said that staff have been fired for infractions as trivial as not smiling enough. But more often than not, she said, they’re deprived of real reasons for their terminations, making New York City’s just cause bill a potential game changer for workers.

“The legislation the New York City Council is considering the first of its kind in the country for the fast food industry, but it could become a model for other cities and industries that want to enshrine fairness and dignity for workers and ensure they are only fired when there’s a reason that warrants it,” she told Civil Eats.

Princess Wright (center), a worker at a Brooklyn McDonald’s, speaks on Feb. 13, 2019, next to New York City Council Member Adrienne Adams, who sponsored one of the two “Just Cause” bills.Princess Wright (center), a worker at a Brooklyn McDonald’s, speaks on Feb. 13, 2019, next to New York City Council Member Adrienne Adams, who sponsored one of the two “Just Cause” bills. (Photo courtesy of 32BJ SEIU)

As the national Fight for $15 campaign highlights the need for living wages for fast food staff, New York City’s just cause legislation stresses the importance of keeping some of the labor market’s most vulnerable workers employed. While more job protection certainly benefits workers, supporters of just cause legislation say it could also help the fast food industry save money by stabilizing its workforce.

Fast Food Industry’s ‘Disposable Culture’

By some estimates, the fast food industry has a 150 percent turnover rate. Each year, most chains lose their entire staffs, plus half of the replacements hired. The frequency with which fast food companies fire and hire workers usually comes at the expense of employees such as Gomez, who have little recourse when they’re terminated, labor advocates say. While nearly all Americans who don’t have union jobs are considered “at-will employees”—meaning they may be fired at any time for any reason—companies typically use progressive discipline for employees rather than terminate them without warning. Fast food workers tend to have the opposite experience.

“For far too long, fast food workers have been the victims of unfair reduction of hours or arbitrary termination,” New York City Councilwoman Adrienne Adams said in a statement to Civil Eats. “By enacting just cause legislation, the city could require that fast food chains demonstrate a legitimate reason for terminating a worker or reducing their hours.”

A recent report entitled, “Fired On a Whim: The Precarious Existence of NYC Fast-Food Workers,” found that 58 percent of 237 fast food employees have had their hours severely cut, and 65 percent have been fired without a reason. The National Employment Law Project (NELP), the Center for Popular Democracy32BJ SEIU, and Fast Food Justice collaborated on the analysis.

Paul Sonn, NELP’s state policy program director, said the New York bill would require fast food chains to implement basic fair practices before cutting employees’ hours or terminating them. The restaurants would have to clearly outline job expectations and give workers warnings, chances to improve their behavior, and notice of possible termination. In extreme cases, such as workplace violence, companies would not have to use these practices before firing an employee.

The “disposable culture” of the fast food world has made such guidelines necessary, Sonn said.

“This is an industry that has sort of latched onto a high turnover/low-wage business model,” Sonn argued. “They generally pay as little as they’re legally permitted to pay, and they don’t invest in workers. In some cases, having a high turnover model is a way to avoid workers from starting to organize and assert their rights. There’s also a very high turnover rate among the managers. There’s a lot of instability, and some of the basic good HR practices seem to be shockingly uncommon in a lot of the fast food industry.”

Gig Economy Poses Threats to All Workers, Especially Single Mothers

Stephanie Seguino, a University of Vermont economics professor, said that the legislation will lead fast food chains to reflect on their business practices, particularly the arbitrary dismissal of employees. She places the fast food workforce in the context of the Great Recession, which led to a process called labor market flexibilization, more colloquially known as the gig economy. The 2008 recession and the decline of labor unions means that workers in various fields have fewer protections than they once did, and companies in a number of industries are increasingly firing and hiring people at will, or using third-party contractors to hire workers, to avoid giving employees benefits.

“It shifts the burden of economic insecurity to the worker, and that’s the problem,” Seguino said. “We’re seeing workers involuntarily placed in part-time work or working for temp agencies on a contingency basis. This is a growing trend, and it’s particularly damaging to people with families.”

Seguino says that single mothers are especially at risk in industries such as fast food, where missing a shift or being late for one can result in job termination. These women bear most of the responsibility for childcare and, therefore, have few options other than to miss work if their children fall ill or a daycare crisis occurs. Having to pick up and drop off children at school also increases the odds that mothers will be late and possibly fired, Seguino said.

fast food workers serving a customerTerminating workers has dire consequences for fast-food workers. According to the “Fired on a Whim” report, 62 percent of respondents who lost a fast food job or had their hours cut experienced food insecurity, housing instability, and the inability to pay for childcare. Some were evicted or forced to move or quit school.

Gomez, who still has not found full-time work, said that she has struggled financially since losing her Taco Bell job in December. Joblessness during the holiday season is particularly challenging, not only because it makes paying for Christmas gifts tough, she said, but also because it’s too late to apply for the seasonal work already underway. Gomez has depended on her wife to support over the past five months and has used some of the financial aid from her college education to cover expenses.

“Right now, I’m a full-time college student,” she said. “I do odd jobs here and there. It’s hard to pay rent and bills even now.”

More Job Security Could Help the Fast Food Industry

While it’s clear that job security benefits workers, it also offers advantages to the fast food industry. According to the National Restaurant Industry, turnover costs restaurants an average of $150,000 per year. That number is likely higher for fast food restaurants, which have more than double the turnover of the overall restaurant average of 61 percent annually.

“Turnover absolutely costs tons of money,” said Rachel Deutsch, supervising attorney for worker justice at the Center for Popular Democracy. “The recruiting process, the hiring process, training new people, it’s far more productive to keep workers who have been on the job because they’re more invested.”

Seguino agreed, pointing out how in the early days of the auto industry, carmakers such as Ford underpaid their workers, resulting in a high annual turnover rate. Ford eventually realized how much it cost to replace its workers and raised its pay to reduce turnover.

“Firms don’t realize that some of their practices may be undermining their bottom line,” she said. “Job security is a win-win for businesses and workers.”

As labor advocates support New York City’s just cause bill, Gomez said that she encounters far too many people who don’t consider the job “real work.” But Gomez has a very different take on her former position.

“We’re the backbone of this city,” she said. “When everyone goes to lunch, they don’t understand that the workers have sometimes been there since 5 or 6 in the morning or that the late-night workers are there until 2 a.m. cleaning up. There are workers who raise their children off these paychecks. It’s not fair, it’s not humane to fire someone without a proper reason, to know you can get fired at any moment. We’re doing a lot more than you think.”

The New York City Council will likely vote on the bill during the summer, and advocates hope that if it passes, it will have a domino effect nationwide.

“In New York City, we must stand up and address these injustices in an effort to protect workers in this industry,” Councilwoman Adams said. “Just cause legislation is a necessary step to bring accountability to fast food giants and security to their employees.”

Canada is Warming at Twice the Rate of the Globe

the real news network

Canada is Warming at Twice the Rate of the Globe, Says New Report

April 20, 2019
Greenpeace Canada analyst hopes study serves as a wake-up call for Trudeau government, but says “You can’t wake up a man who’s only pretending to be asleep” on climate change
Story Transcript


SPEAKER: It’s the 21st century. We know climate change is real. We know that one of the challenges we have is that pollution has been free, but we need to put a price on it.

DIMITRI LASCARIS: This is Dimitri Lascaris reporting for The Real News Network from Montreal, Canada. Earlier this week, officials from Environment and Climate Change Canada, a department of the Canadian federal government, presented the results of a study on warming in Canada. Their study concluded that Canada is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world and that northern Canada is warming even more quickly, nearly three times the global rate. The officials also reported that three of the past five years have been the warmest on record in this country. Their study is the first of its kind. Entitled Canada’s Changing Climate Report, the study has been in the works for years and is the first of a series aimed at informing policy decisions and increasing public awareness and understanding of Canada’s changing climate. Now here to discuss this new study with us is Keith Stewart. Keith is a Senior Energy Strategist with Greenpeace Canada and part-time instructor at the University of Toronto. He has a Ph.D. in Political Science from York University and has worked as a climate policy researcher and advocate for 19 years. He joins us today from Toronto. Thanks for coming back on The Real News, Keith.

KEITH STEWART: Thanks for having me.

DIMITRI LASCARIS: So Keith, even with all of the warming that has occurred in this country since the beginning of the fossil fuels era, we Canadians continue to live in what is one of the world’s relatively colder climates. Why should Canadians be concerned about this report? How is the warming of the atmosphere and of the oceans affecting their lives in practical terms and what practical effects should Canadians anticipate as Canada continues to warm?

KEITH STEWART: It’s kind of a standard joke that oh, in Canada it would be nice if it was a little warmer. The problem is the rate of change. We haven’t historically– well, in the geological record climate has changed a lot over time– but we’re trying to pack change that usually take 50,000 to 100,000 years into 50 years. Because we’re burning fossil fuels and sort of increasing the greenhouse effect trapping heat, which it then causes a whole bunch of other changes. You might think oh, a little bit warmer that would be nice, but you’re also changing rainfall patterns. You’re going to have drought in some places. You are going to have more wildfires, the kinds we’ve seen in B.C. and Alberta the last couple of years where people literally couldn’t breathe. Walking outside in Vancouver was like breathing eight packs, smoking eight pack of cigarettes. In urban areas, one of the warnings in the report is we’re going to see even more flooding. In particular, the kind of flash flooding which in one incident here in Toronto back in 2013, we saw $960 million worth of damage in a couple of hours. We saw street cars under water. People had to be rescued from the GO train by boat. These kinds of severe impacts– the heat waves, the droughts, the wildfires, the flooding– these cause enormous damage to our economy, they cause enormous damage to our health, and we’re only seeing the thin edge of the wedge here.

When you look at this report, a big part of the message in the report is: what the future looks like depends a lot on what actions we take today. In their low emissions scenario, if Canada warmed about one point seven degrees, it would warm by another two degrees, that’s bad because it would have a whole bunch of negative impacts. The negative impacts by far outweigh the positives. In the high emissions scenario, the one we’re actually on the path to right now, they’re talking about warming by six degrees in Canada, on average even more than the far north, by the end of the century. That would make agriculture basically impossible in large chunks of the prairies. They say oh, you can just move further north. Well a lot of places in this country you move further north, they don’t have soil to be able to support agriculture. Here in Ontario, we have this thing called the Canadian Shield. It’s all granite. You can’t grow crops there. And similarly, forests which are suited for one climate system, can’t move themselves north 50, 100, 200 kilometers in the space of 20 years.

DIMITRI LASCARIS: This study was released on April 1st, Keith, which also happened to be the date on which a federal carbon tax of $20 a ton took effect in provinces that lack provincial pricing plans, including the provinces of New Brunswick, Ontario Manitoba, and Saskatchewan. The carbon tax, as I’m sure you know, is the centerpiece of the Trudeau government’s strategy for fighting climate change. In your view, is this carbon tax adequate both from the perspective of the amount of the tax and the breadth of its application? And if not, what kind of a carbon tax do you think we need in this country given the urgency of the situation?

KEITH STEWART: I think one of the problems we have in this country right now is action on climate change has been narrowed to carbon tax, no carbon tax. And really we need a whole, vast suite of efforts not just carbon taxes but also massive investments in things like public transit, so people can get to where they need to go without having to drive a car. We need to invest in better sewage/stormwater systems so that we’re not having these floodings. We need to invest in rapidly transitioning to renewable energy. A carbon tax is a key part of that. Raising the price of fossil fuels makes them less attractive relative to cleaner forms of energy. It also brings in some cash that can be done to build things like great public transit systems or, put up windmills and solar panels. So in the U.S. we are talking about this as a Green New Deal, kind of built on the New Deal that Roosevelt, that the Americans brought in to fight the Great Depression. That’s the kind of change we need. This carbon tax is a component of that and I think it’s kind of like the lowest possible measure, $20 dollars a ton kicking in this year. That’s 4.4 cents per liter of gasoline. When you look at the price of oil, the price of gasoline goes up and down. That’s not a huge change. That on its own is by no means enough. They’re also talking about increasing it $10 a year. Greenpeace would support that. We also think the money should be invested back in renewables, but that’s got to be just one piece of a much bigger package.

The big problem we have right now is no one is treating the climate crisis really like a crisis. We treat it more as kind of a messaging problem; we do a few things it will go away. Or, on one side of the political spectrum with the conservatives at the provincial level and federally who are fighting against even the small carbon tax that’s being proposed, they’re proposing we do nothing. That somehow if we ignore the problem, it will go away. One of my friends was asking me, “do you think this new report that just came is a wakeup call?” And was like well, there’s an old proverb that says “you can’t wake up a man who’s only pretending to be asleep” and that’s the problem with a lot of the politicians in this country and around the world. They’re pretending to be asleep on this issue, hoping they can get out of office and it will be someone else’s problem down the road.

DIMITRI LASCARIS: Now at the same time as the Trudeau government has raised alarms about the extent of warming in this country, federal and provincial governments continue to subsidize fossil fuels to the tune of about $3 billion a year. Also, as we’ve reported extensively on The Real News, the Trudeau government is spending billions of taxpayer dollars to buy its TransMountain tar sands pipeline. Keith, doesn’t this new study– I mean, what Justin Trudeau did on Monday was he held it up and said to the public and in particularly was addressing the conservatives and those who are opposed to the carbon tax, this shows that we have to impose a carbon tax. But doesn’t it also highlight the recklessness of the Trudeau government’s continued defense of the fossil fuels industry, its massive investments in the fossil fuels industry, this perpetuation of our dependence on fossil fuels?

KEITH STEWART: Absolutely. Subsidies in fossil fuels is basically like a negative carbon tax. You’re making them cheaper in order to get people to use more. Similarly, the federal government yesterday was denying that, in response, were denying that the purchasing the pipeline was a subsidy to fossil fuels. Well it is and I think the Trudeau government is trying to have it both ways. They say we’re going to do a carbon tax and we’re going to promote expansion of the oil industry. If you’re serious about climate change, that means getting off of fossil fuels as quickly as possible by mid-century, at the latest. Building a new tar sands pipeline that has to operate for 50 years to make the money back, makes no sense at this point if you’re seriously committed to achieving the Paris climate goals, to protecting the future of our economy, of our communities, of our ecosystems. So it’s not one step forward, one step back which is kind of what we’re seeing from the federal liberals. It’s got to be leaping forward and I think the big problem in Canada and also similarly in the U.S. and many other places is that entrenched power of the fossil fuel interests in Canada and particularly the oil lobby. In the US it’s also the coal lobby who are basically saying, don’t go too fast. Give us time to get our money out. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers has launched an election campaign in Alberta saying, we want to double the rate of growth of oil production in Alberta and here’s all things you have to do to help us do that which is kill regulations, get rid of carbon pricing, build new pipelines. That’s basically asking people to vote for climate destruction.

And I think this is going to be a big issue in the federal election here in the fall as we have the conservatives who are saying do nothing about climate change and give more subsidies to the oil industry. You have the liberals who are saying let’s do stuff on climate change but not touch oil production. So they are doing a coal phase out, they’re doing a bunch of other measures. But basically, oil is sacrosanct and what we really need is a push for this kind of a Green New Deal which actually, we can make our lives better. We can create great green jobs right across the country. We can deal with all sorts of problems in this country by the kind of investments that are necessary, putting people to work, solving the climate crisis.

DIMITRI LASCARIS: We’ve been speaking to Keith Stewart of Greenpeace Canada about an important and alarming new study showing that the rate of warming in Canada is far above the global average. Thank you very much for joining us today, Keith.

KEITH STEWART: Thanks so much for having me on.

DIMITRI LASCARIS: And this is Dimitri Lascaris reporting for The Real News Network.

U.S. states most and least dependent on the gun industry

Yahoo – Finance

These are the U.S. states most and least dependent on the gun industry

Aarthi Swaminathan, Finance Writer       April 23, 2019

‘In America, we value our guns more than our children:’ Fmr. Secretary of Education on gun debate

Some U.S. states rely on America’s robust gun culture more than others.

Gun manufacturers like Smith & Wesson (AOBC) and Sturm, Ruger & Co. (RGR) saw sales boom under former President Barack Obama’s tenure, but firearms sales in the U.S. fell by 6.1% — the second year of decline.

And if the “Trump Slump” persists for gunmakers, Idaho will be the state hardest hit, according to a new report from WalletHub.

The study — which ranked all 50 states based on how the firearms industry contributed to the economic development of the state from jobs to sales, how prevalent guns were, and how far the state supported gun rights — found that Idaho was the state that was the most dependent on the gun industry.

(Graphic: David Foster/Yahoo Finance)(Graphic: David Foster/Yahoo Finance)

Alaska came in second place, followed by South Dakota, Wyoming, and Arkansas.

“Most states in the top ten have state law immunity to the gun industry, which means that the state provides immunity from bringing lawsuits against certain gun industry defendants,” WalletHub analyst Jill Gonzalez told Yahoo Finance. “They also have more lenient age restrictions to purchase and possess firearms. Senators from the top ten states voted to either loosen gun restrictions or against a measure adding restrictions.”

Gun-friendly Idaho

Idaho’s dependency stems from its reliance on the firearms industry: Idaho ranked only behind New Hampshire — home to industry giants like Sig Sauer and Sturm Ruger — in terms of the number of people per capita employed by the firearms industry.

In 2018, the firearms industry contributed to nearly $1.2 billion in economic activity to the state, with over 3,600 people employed in companies that “manufacture, distribute and sell firearms, ammunition, and hunting equipment,” a National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) report found.

The state also ranked in the top 5 in terms of gun-friendliness and the prevalence of guns.

Idaho began ramping efforts to attract the firearms industry in 2008 by touting its low wages, gun-friendly culture, and business climate, according to the Idaho Business Review. The plan has since paid off in less than a decade, as employment by the firearms industry grew 40% between 2012 and 2017.

An estimated 800 pro-gun activists turned out for a rally inside the Idaho Statehouse in Boise, Idaho, Saturday, January 19, 2013. (Chris Butler/Idaho Statesman/MCT via Getty Images)An estimated 800 pro-gun activists turned out for a rally inside the Idaho Statehouse in Boise, Idaho, Saturday, January 19, 2013. (Chris Butler/Idaho Statesman/MCT via Getty Images)

Overall, the NSSF also estimated that the firearms industry contributes to over $52 billion in economic activity to all 50 states, as gun manufacturers employed nearly 150,000 people, generated over $52 billion in economic activity, and its employees paid over $6.82 billion in taxes.

No guns in New Jersey

Gun-shy New Jersey ranked last on the list.

Rhode Island, New York, Massachusetts, and Delaware followed.

In March 2018, the National Rifle Association criticized New Jersey — which is known for its exceptionally tough gun laws — after it elected anti-gun advocate Governor Phil Murphy as launching a “historic assault on our Second Amendment rights.”

Speaking in November 2018, after the mass shooting in in Parkland, Florida, Murphy stated: “Mass murder is not the price that we have to pay for the Second Amendment.”

While the number of outstanding registered firearms are roughly the same between both states — 52,527 in Idaho versus 59,000 in New Jersey — the deliberate emphasis on gun control has been effective in keeping the firearms industry’s influence largely out of the state’s economy.

In this photo provided by the New Jersey Governor's Office, Gov. Phil Murphy, center, signs several gun safety bills at the Richard J. Hughes Justice Complex Atrium in Trenton, N.J., Wednesday, June 13 , 2018. The half-dozen new gun control laws tighten the state's already strict statutes. (Edwin J. Torres/New Jersey Governor's Office via AP)In this photo provided by the New Jersey Governor’s Office, Gov. Phil Murphy, center, signs several gun safety bills at the Richard J. Hughes Justice Complex Atrium in Trenton, N.J., Wednesday, June 13 , 2018. The half-dozen new gun control laws tighten the state’s already strict statutes. (Edwin J. Torres/New Jersey Governor’s Office via AP)

Nevertheless, the NSSF claimed that New Jersey did see a $560 million boost in economic activity because of the industry.

Overall, the bottom five overall had “some of the lowest numbers of firearms and ammunition dealers, importers and manufacturers per capita,” Gonzalez noted. “As a result, the total federal excise taxes paid by the firearms industry are also some of the lowest in the country.”

Another interesting takeaway from the study is that while Texas had the highest number of registered firearms at 637,612 in 2018, it was only ranked no. 22 on the list.

Aarthi is a writer for Yahoo Finance.

Laurence Tribe: “Impeachment talk is dangerous, but the time has come”

USA Today

Laurence Tribe, USA TODAY      April 23, 2019

These are the U.S. states most and least dependent on the federal government

Yahoo – Finance

These are the U.S. states most and least dependent on the federal government

Adriana Belmonte, Associate Editor       April 16, 2019.
These are the U.S. states most and least dependent on the federal government.

States that voted Democrat in 2016 generally rely less on federal funding than Republican states, according to a study by WalletHub.

The analysis looked at the return on taxes paid to the federal government, the share of federal jobs, and federal funding as a share of state revenue.

Thirteen out of the top 15 states found to be most dependent on the federal government voted for President Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election. Ten out of the 15 least dependent states voted for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

New Mexico is the most dependent state on the federal government, according to WalletHub. (Graphic: David Foster/Yahoo Finance)New Mexico is the most dependent state on the federal government, according to WalletHub. (Graphic: David Foster/Yahoo Finance)

‘No ranking like this is ever going to be perfect’

“Obviously, no ranking like this is ever going to be perfect,” Stan Veuger, an economist at the American Enterprise Institute, told Yahoo Finance. “Some things you can definitely say, like where the states that have the highest per capita income or pay the most in taxes.”

But “it’s not really true across the board,” Veuger said. “Virginia is a blue state and obviously has a lot of federal contractors and a lot of federal money … It obviously relies heavily on what the federal government does.”

According to WalletHub’s analysis, Virginia receives the second-highest amount of federal contracts while ranking federal funding as a share of state revenue. And given that WalletHub weighted federal funding four times more than share of federal jobs, Virginia is one of the least-dependent states on the federal government.

‘Poor states receive more federal funding through Medicaid’

WalletHub analyst Jill Gonzalez explained that “federal funding as a percentage of state revenue was calculated as states’ intergovernmental revenue from the federal government divided by the states’ general revenue.”

Intergovernmental revenue includes funding for Medicaid, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), child welfare services, and other low-income assistance programs. For TANF, Kentucky (3rd overall), Alaska (7th overall), and Delaware use the most federal dollars.

“Because the federal income tax is progressive,” Veuger said, “I think you can also generally say that poor states receive more federal funding through Medicaid, which is a huge part of states’ budgets.”

The electoral map after the 2016 election. Stripes indicate that the state flipped from 2012. (Source: The New York Times)

The electoral map after the 2016 election. Stripes indicate that the state flipped from 2012. (Source: The New York Times)

In the 2017 fiscal year, Montana, the eighth-most dependent state overall in WalletHub’s analysis, received the highest amount of federal dollars for Medicaid at 80%. It was followed closely by West Virginia (4th overall), Arkansas, Kentucky (3rd overall), New Mexico (1st overall), and Arizona (6th overall).

In terms of gross domestic product (GDP) per capita, Massachusetts ranked first, followed by New York, Alaska, North Dakota, and Wyoming. On the other end of the spectrum, Mississippi is the lowest, followed by Arkansas, West Virginia, Idaho, and Alabama.

Veuger noted that “all the poor states are red. Mississippi and Louisiana get a lot of Medicaid money.”

What If the Sahara Desert Was Covered With Solar Panels?


What If the Sahara Desert Was Covered With Solar Panels?

April 22, 2019

Could this be the solution to climate change?