Improve working conditions for those who bring you your turkey

After twenty-one years of grueling, hard labor at the same Midwest turkey processing plant, one worker — let’s call him Alberto — is today earning $12.45 an hour.

He handles as many as thirty turkeys a minute as they speed along the processing line. Every shift, he makes some 20,000 cutting motions.

Alberto and thousands of other poultry workers — mostly immigrants, refugees and workers of color — feed the nation this Thanksgiving — and every day of the year.

Two-thirds of the meatpacking and poultry-processing workforce in the United States is Latino and black.

Thousands of Somalis who fled their war-torn African homeland help put forty-five million turkeys on Thanksgiving tables.

In the fields and orchards, Latinos comprise 77 percent of the labor force that adds vegetables and fruit to the holiday spread.

Got milk?

Mostly immigrant workers tend the dairy farms.

Workers up and down the food chain deserve better pay and benefits — and safer conditions.

Fortunately, there is a new effort under way to secure these gains. It’s called the Food Chain Workers Alliance, and it is finding common ground despite differences of race, culture, language and religion. Other union and community-based initiatives across the country are also focusing on this issue. The aim is to build a just food system that benefits workers and consumers alike.

Such a food system would make the Thanksgiving meal easier to digest.

David L. Ostendorf is executive director of the Chicago-based Center for New Community ( He is a minister in the United Church of Christ. He can be reached at

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