Supporting Low Wage Food Workers

The food sector, one of the largest employers in New York City, provides more than 500,000 jobs. But many food jobs pay less than a living wage and offer few benefits and limited protections against work hazards. Few food workers belong to unions and those who are women, Black, Latinx or immigrants are paid less and face more workplace risk.

As a sector, the food industry contributes significantly to high rates of income inequality. To improve the conditions for low wage food workers, the Institute analyzes employment practices in the food sector, provides research support to food labor organizations, and develops career pathways inside and outside CUNY to help food workers improve their circumstances.


This collaborative project assisted community development corporations and settlement houses in New York City to integrate their workforce development and food programs in low income neighborhoods throughout the city.


  • Local Initiatives Support Corporation – New York City
  • United Settlement Houses
  • Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation

With a youth workforce program partner, the Institute prepared young people from Upper Manhattan and the South Bronx for entry level jobs in healthy food settings such as salad and juice bars, healthy food groceries, and restaurants.


  • YouthActionYouthBuild
  • Seedco
The Institute provides research and policy analysis for labor unions and worker organizations representing various sectors of low wage food workers.


  • Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union
  • United Food and Commercial Workers
  • 32 BJ of Service Employees International Union
  • Food Chain Workers Alliance

As part of its comprehensive investigation of the impact of covid on the food system, Institute staff prepared a report on the health and social impact of the pandemic on the city’s food workforce and suggested strategies to address the problems identified.


  • Hunter College NYC Food Policy Center
  • The Laurie M. Tisch Center for Food Education & Policy
  • Teachers College Columbia University
  • Community Food Funders

This project assists the thousands of CUNY students who support themselves and their families by working in the food sector to learn about their rights as workers, connect with unions and worker organizations serving food workers, and advance their careers by getting more skills and training from the many CUNY academic programs in food-related fields.


  • 32 BJ of Service Employees International Union
  • Students at CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies