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Spring 2022 Reading Group

Food System Workers

Prerequisite: None

Exam Type: No Exam

This reading group will provide an overview of different sectors of the food system and how law and policy impact workers employed in those sectors. As the COVID-19 pandemic made palpable, the U.S. food system depends on the essential labor of these individuals. Despite the critical role they play, food system workers face some of the worst wages and working conditions in the country. A core facet of the reading group will be examining the role race and racism have had, and continue to have, in shaping this system.

Assigned readings will primarily consist of articles, reports, and book excerpts from various experts in the field. The reading group will open with readings about the food system broadly and the range of stakeholders with an interest in its operation. It will then turn to agricultural workers, considering the narrative and attendant policies of agricultural exceptionalism and examining immigration policy, the growing role of agricultural guest worker programs, and labor trafficking. Next, the group will look at the meat and poultry processing industry and the dynamics that make work in this industry particularly precarious. The food service industry will then be examined, with a focus on the tipped (sub)minimum wage and sexual harassment. Finally, the class will identify and discuss opportunities to improve the industry, through policy change, movement building, and alternative economic structures. Over the course of the semester, students will examine and discuss the competing policy objectives of several substantive areas of law, including wage, hour, and labor law; immigration law; worker health and safety law; and civil rights law, through the lens of the food system.

Note: This reading group will meet on the following dates: January 26, February 9, February 23, March 9, March 23, and April 6.