Just four days before Senator Kamala Harris became the first woman of color chosen as the running mate of a major U.S. political party's (presumptive) presidential nominee, she co-authored an op-ed in CNN calling on grocery store chains to reinstate "hazard pay."
"While top grocery chains rake in billions in profits during this pandemic, these frontline workers cannot choose to work from home like the corporate executives of these companies do," Harris wrote with Marc Perrone, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW). "The responsibility to properly protect and support store workers lies with these executives, who must make the decision to consistently pay workers a wage that justly compensates them for the clear and present dangers of their jobs during the pandemic."
Harris's decision to stand up for grocery store workers months after news crews had left supermarkets, and shoppers had stopped panic-buying, isn't surprising to those familiar with her record in the food, water, and agriculture sectors.
"Short of having somebody who has actually worked in the food system or has experienced hunger themselves, she's about as good as they get on food and hunger," Jessica Bartholow, a policy advocate for the nonpartisan Western Center on Law & Poverty, told Civil Eats.
A native of California, the country's largest agricultural state, Harris has sponsored legislation to improve working conditions for farmworkers, expand food and water access, and protect the environment. Her advocacy landed her the coveted endorsement of the United Farm Workers (UFW) before she suspended her 2020 presidential campaignin December. And when Joe Biden named her as his vice president pick on August 11, leaders of numerous farm and grocery workers unions and of food and environmental groups celebrated the news.
In a statement from the UFW, President Teresa Romero pointed to Harris's long history of working directly with the organization, including participating in farmworker marches and the 2016 UFW convention.
"She led the fight for equal treatment and protection of America's farmworkers as a U.S. senator by authoring the current federal bill providing overtime pay after eight hours a day for agricultural workers," Romero said. "As California's attorney general she lobbied the governor to sign California's landmark law in 2016 providing phased-in overtime and to strengthen state rules preventing worker deaths and illnesses from extreme heat."
Labor, food, and environmental activists now see an opportunity to increase farmworker pay, fund food assistance programs, and strengthen climate protections.
During her presidential campaign last year, Harris also marched with McDonald's workers in Las Vegas demanding $15 hourly pay, noting that she "did the French fries and the ice cream" while working at the food chain in her youth.
Her support of workers all along the food chain has run parallel to her efforts to ensure that vulnerable Americans have access to food and water during the pandemic.
With Harris and Biden on the Democratic ticket, labor, food, and environmental activists see an opportunity to undo the Trump administration's plans to lower farmworker pay, cut food assistance programs, and roll back climate protections. Should Biden win the election, they say that Harris's presence could lead to significant policy shifts from the White House.
Fairness for Farmworkers
Senator Harris has several times introduced legislation to provide overtime pay for farmworkers. The 2019 version of Fairness for Farm Workers Act would give overtime pay to those who work more than 40 hours a week in the field. It also ends exemptions to employers in industries such as small-scale farming, sugar processing, and cotton ginning from overtime pay requirements.
"It is absolutely unconscionable that many farmworkers—people who often work over 12 hours a day in the hot sun—do not receive overtime pay for the hard work they do to put food on the tables of American families," Harris said when reintroducing the act last year.
The bill currently sits in committee, but even if it's not passed, it raises awareness about the working conditions of farmworkers, more than 2 million of whom don't receive employment protections while earning wages of between $15,000 to $17,499 on average annually. Harris's bill also points to the fact that, every day, 100 farmworkers suffer job-related injuries that put them at risk of missing work.
In a similar vein, Harris cosponsored the Agricultural Worker Program Act of 2019 (now in the Committee on the Judiciary) to give "blue card" status to farmworkers who have done agricultural labor for at least 100 days over the past two years, giving them a legal right to work in the U.S., and providing a path to a green card. An estimated 60 percent of California's farmworkers are undocumented, and they are not spared from the Trump administration's immigration enforcement guidelines. And even those authorized to be in the country on H-2A visas face the possibility that Trump will cut their wages.
In fact, in July 2019, Harris introduced the Basic Assistance for Students in College Act to ensure that students receiving Pell Grants, attending community colleges, or minority-serving institutions could afford necessities such as food. More than 30 percent of college students may face food insecurity, according to the Government Accountability Office, and the problem disproportionately affects students at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and those living in areas without access to grocery stores or restaurants.
At the Intersection of Racial and Environmental Justice
Harris, a cosponsor of the Green New Deal, is also known as an environmental justice advocate. On July 30, she joined Senators Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) and Tammy Duckworth (D-Illinois), in introducing the Environmental Justice for All Act, aimed at achieving health equity and climate justice for all, but particularly communities of color. Among other measures, it would require that cumulative impacts of more than one potentially toxic substance be considered in permitting decisions under the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act and establish programs to ensure more equitable access to parks and the outdoors.
"Confronting generations of systemic racism to achieve true justice will require us to recognize the role environmental racism has played and redress that by investing in long-term, sustainable environmental justice solutions to center and empower communities that have for far too long been excluded," Harris said when the legislation was announced.
In July alone, Harris also introduced bills to protect consumers from utility shut-offsand to ensure the nation's water supply is safe and sustainable, drawing on her Water Justice Act of 2019. This year, she also pushed for a comprehensive investment in keeping water affordable in the next coronavirus relief package.
"Keeping water service flowing during a pandemic is essential for keeping families safe," Mary Grant, Food & Water Watch's Public Water for All campaign director, told Civil Eats. "In recent years, [Harris] has introduced water legislation that emphasized racial and economic justice and that would provide the billions of dollars in federal funding that will be necessary to provide safe, affordable drinking water for all."
The Senator's 2020 presidential campaign slogan was "Kamala Harris for the people," and Hunger Free America's Berg sees that mentality as key to serving in the White House in the coming years.
"It's critical to make sure that people in those positions are competent, have progressive values, [are] honest, and put the public first," he said.
The Western Center on Law & Poverty's Bartholow added that the anti-hunger community would be relieved not to have to spend time fighting an administration that passes policies that make food inaccessible to large swathes of Americans.
The new administration can choose its own path, Bartholow said. "And I can't imagine a scenario in which an administration that includes Kamala Harris would support the lawless rulemaking that's taking place now."
August 19, 2020
Voices4America Post Script. Her passion for food justice is perhaps another clue to who Kamala is that you might not know.
From Today's New York Times.
Night 3 of the Democratic National Convention is upon us, and for the first time this week, viewers will hear from Senator Kamala Harris, the presumptive vice-presidential nominee.
Other big names speaking Wednesday evening include former President Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Senator Elizabeth Warren. Scroll down for a full list of speakers.
How to watch
The convention will air from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. Eastern time on Wednesday. Kerry Washington is the M.C. There are several ways to watch:
- The Times will stream the full convention every day, accompanied by chat-based live analysis from our reporters and real-time highlights from the speeches. You can download our iOS or Android app and turn on notifications to be alerted when our live analysis starts.
- The official livestream will be here. It will also be available on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Twitch.
- ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox News will air the convention from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. each night. C-SPAN, CNN, MSNBC and PBS will cover the full two hours each night.
- Streams will be available on Apple TV, Roku and Amazon Fire TV by searching "Democratic National Convention" or "2020 DNC," and on Amazon Prime Video by searching "DNC."
- The convention will air on AT&T U-verse (channels 212 and 1212) and AT&T DirectTV (channel 201). It will also air on Comcast Xfinity Flex and Comcast X1(say "DNC" into your voice remote).
- You can watch on a PlayStation 4 or PSVR through the Littlstar app.
- If you have an Alexa device, you can say "Alexa, play the Democratic National Convention."
Hillary Clinton, the 2016 Democratic nominee and former secretary of state. Four years ago, she appeared onscreen to the sound of breaking glass before being nominated herself. This time, she will be speaking on behalf of the man she hopes can beat Mr. Trump where she could not.
Gov. Tony Evers of Wisconsin, the nominal home of the convention. He narrowly defeated Scott Walker, the Republican incumbent, for the governorship in 2018, two years after Mr. Trump won the state.
Former Representative Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona. Almost killed in a mass shooting in 2011, she has since become one of the United States' most vocal advocates for stricter gun laws, and her husband, Mark Kelly, is the Democratic candidate for Senate in Arizona.
Senator Kamala Harris of California, Mr. Biden's running mate. She is the first woman of color on a major party's presidential ticket and will be looking to energize Black voters, the Democratic Party's most loyal constituency.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico. She is the first Latina Democrat to lead any state and was a vice-presidential contender, and like several other governors, she received some national attention for her response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Former President Barack Obama. More than anyone else in the Democratic Party, he is seen as a potential uniter of the party's moderate and progressive factions. He did not weigh in publicly while the primary was competitive, but he has become more active on the campaign trail (or what remains of it) since endorsing Mr. Biden in April.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader. She has been on the front lines of the ongoing legislative fights with the Trump administration over coronavirus relief and funding for the United States Postal Service.
Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. She and Senator Bernie Sanders, who spoke on Monday, were the two most prominent progressive candidates in the Democratic primary, and she was on Mr. Biden's vice-presidential shortlist.
Kamala will speak from 9 to 10 pm tonight.