Pioneer Valley Workers’ Center Receives 2019 James Beard Leader Award
Written by Emily Chiara | May 7, 2019
All month long, we are honoring stories of organizations and movements at the heart of the fight for workers’ rights and economic justice. As the good food movement continues to enter the national and international media spotlight, so too has the plight of food system workers and the need for fair and safe working conditions.
There are countless organizations doing incredible work to build alliances among food system workers, providing them with a platform to share their challenges, and fighting for institutional policy change. The Food Chain Workers Alliance is one of the many leaders in this movement as they assist workers from across the food chain–farm laborers, packing plant workers, grocery store and restaurant employees, and more–to organize and effectively advocate for their rights. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers is a grassroots organization of farm laborers that has risen to national acclaim. Their organizing efforts began in the tomato fields of Florida in 1993 and they have since launched the Fair Food Program, “a groundbreaking model for Worker-driven Social Responsibility (WSR) based on a unique partnership among farmworkers, Florida tomato growers, and participating retail buyers, including Subway, Whole Foods, and Walmart” (CIW, 2018).
These organizations are just a taste of the countless efforts being made across our food system to demand fair pay, treatment, and protection. However, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the incredible work of an organization who is paving the way for workers’ rights right here in Western Mass.
The Pioneer Valley Workers’ Center supports low wage and immigrant workers by developing and organizing “grassroots campaigns for food chain workers’ rights, including winning wage theft protections, stopping deportations, and building new worker cooperatives” (PVWC, 2017). Their Sanctuary in the Streets project has built a network of over 2,000 people with the skills and infrastructure to fight against the deportations and state violence towards immigrants and people of color. This program continues to support Lucio Perez and Irida Kakhtiranova, two undocumented Pioneer Valley residents living in sanctuary churches in Amherst and Northampton respectively.
The impact of the PVWC’s work in organizing food system laborers was recently recognized and granted a 2019 Leadership Award by the James Beard Foundation. Typically known for acknowledging leading chefs and restaurateurs in the culinary industry, the James Beard Leadership Awards recognize leaders in the food and environmental justice movements. The PVWC team recently traveled to Chicago to accept the award at an event said to be “the Oscars of food.”