Food Workers are Essential Workers and Deserve to be Safe at Work!

By Jose Oliva, Campaigns Director, HEAL Food Alliance

Last month, the HEAL Food Alliance co-organized with workers and safety advocates around the country for a National Day of Action, calling on President Biden to expand COVID-19 safety protections to essential workers across all industries. In early June, the Biden administration issued an Emergency Temporary Standard that mandates social distancing, masking, paid sick leave, and other necessary precautions for healthcare workers. While this is a critical and hard-fought win for the healthcare sector, this ruling blatantly disregards the safety of millions of workers across other essential industries. 

On Tuesday, June 15th, direct actions took place outside Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) offices in six cities across the country, including Boston, Chicago, NYC, Oakland, Syracuse, and Washington DC. The Chicago vigil, which I helped hold down with my colleague Rosie, was held outside the State of Illinois Building, where the OSHA office is. Joined by HEAL members from Warehouse Workers for Justice (WWJ) and Restaurant Opportunities Center United (ROC), working people and allies alike gathered to honor lives lost to the COVID-19 pandemic and to bear witness to testimonies from working people detailing the horrid conditions of making ends meet in a brutal pandemic. 

Here’s what our other actions around the country looked like:


In Boston, advocates and worker center leaders from the Massachusetts COSH, National COSH, OxFam America and the Somerville Worker Center gathered at the Department of Labor downtown, where they held multilingual posters and posted flyers with the COVID death tolls of working age adults by week: 1417 died from April 24-30, 1030 died from May 15-21, 793 died from May 22-28, and so on.

New York City

In New York City, workers and advocates from the Food Chain Workers Alliance, the Laundry Workers Center, Teamsters Joint Council 16, and NYCOSH gathered at the federal OSHA office at 201 Varick Street, where they laid out flowers, candles, and handwritten signs telling passersby how many workers in each sector have been infected and died from the virus.  

Oakland, CA

In Oakland, California advocates from the HEAL Food Alliance and Real Food Media organized two vigils – first outside of the OSHA Oakland District Office and then in front of the Ronald V. Dellums Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse. At each vigil, advocates laid out banners, candles and handwritten signs telling passersby how many workers in each sector have been infected and died from COVID-19 while waiting for OSHA to pass an Emergency Temporary Standard 

Syracuse, NY

In Syracuse, NY workers and advocates from the Food Chain Workers Alliance, the Workers Center of Central New York, and the New York Immigration Coalition gathered at the federal OSHA office at 3300 Vickery Road, where they protested with signs reading “Proteger a todos los trabajadores,” “Why did Biden abandon other essential workers?” and “15,000 workers died of COVID-19 since 5/15/21” 

Washington DC

In DC, worker advocates left messages for President Joe Biden outside the Department of Labor and OSHA. The activist laid out a collage of messages that reported the COVID deaths this spring. Their messages included a call to action for President Biden that stated, “Present Biden, we need strong worker safety protections from OSHA now!”

In addition to the in-person actions nationwide, a national coalition of organizations launched a social media campaign to raise awareness about the ongoing need for enforceable workplace safety protections. We will continue to call upon the Biden administration until all essential workers receive adequate safety protections under the law. We cannot call workers “essential” and then not treat them as such. The fight continues.

The national day of action was co-sponsored by  HEAL (Health, Environment, Agriculture, Labor) Food Alliance, National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (COSH), OXFAM, Massachusetts Council for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH), Food Chain Workers Alliance (FCWA), National Nurses United, New Jersey Work Environmental Council, Last Mile, Public Citizen and Union of Concerned Scientists, direction actions took place outside Department of Labor and Occupational Safety