For Safe Food System, Workers Need Earned Sick Days

Source: Liz Ben-Ishai, Center for Law and Social Policy, January 7, 2013

On Friday, the Food and Drug Administration proposed two broad new food safety rules – marking the first major food safety rulemaking since the 1930s. These rules came about because of the Food Safety Modernization Act, which was passed more than two years ago. Since the passage of the law, consumer advocates have pressured the government to move forward with the rulemaking process, to little avail. While powerful interests and politics held up the process, the human and economic costs of food-borne illness accumulated. One in six Americans becomes sick from contaminated food each year, which adds up to 48 million cases of food-borne disease annually.

These rules are a major step forward for consumer safety. However, policy makers should take note that a major gap in labor protections for workers who handle our food continues to imperil the safety of our food system: most farmworkers and restaurant workers, as well as other food chain workers, receive no earned sick days, which means many are forced to come to work when sick. This lack of protections is not only unfair to workers, but also 1) dangerous for consumers, who risk infection and illness when they eat food handled by sick workers, 2) bad for businesses, and 3) harmful to the U.S. economy….