3 Major Unions Back Marcia Fudge to Lead USDA
She would oversee SNAP, meatpacking plants, and provide support to struggling farmers
Over the past few weeks, unions have been lobbying President-elect Joe Biden on a number of worker-friendly picks for his Cabinet. UCOMM has previously covered their efforts to get a friendly person in at the Departments of Labor and Education. Now three unions are pushing for a candidate to lead the Department of Agriculture (USDA).
The unions, AFSCME, AFT, and UFCW, announced their support for Congresswoman Marcia Fudge to lead the department. Fudge, who represents the Cleveland and Akron areas of Ohio, currently serves on the Agriculture Committee as well as the Committee on Education and Labor. Although she comes from an urban district, she has a long history of advocating for food stamps and other food security programs that are administered through the Department of Agriculture. In the letter to Biden, the unions also touted her work standing up for meatpacking workers (many of which are represented by the UFCW) and fighting attempts to increase the line speeds in meat plants. They also highlighted her work in opposing Trump’s efforts to limit food stamps and school lunch programs.
The endorsement noted that the Agriculture Department has a long history of discrimination against both minority farmers and USDA employees and that Fudge’s appointment could help rectify “the discriminatory application of [U.S. Department of Agriculture] programs” during a national reckoning on race.
If Fudge is appointed Agriculture Secretary, she would be the first Black woman and second Black person, and the second woman to hold the position. The USDA oversees a number of different programs ranging from assisting farmers with the sale of crops on both the domestic and world markets to overseeing the massive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps, which provides food for 40 million low-income and homeless Americans every month. The Department employs nearly 100,000 people and has a $150 billion budget.
While the Agriculture Secretary isn’t necessarily one of the high publicity cabinet positions, it is becoming a much more important position due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Food insecurity rates are near all-time highs with the Washington Post reporting 26 million Americans say they don’t have enough to eat. Meatpackers have also been on the frontlines of the pandemic with outbreaks at many of the major processing facilities. Additionally, farmers have been severely hurt by Trump’s trade war with China.
Currently, Fudge is the only one actively campaigning for the position, but The Hill reports that activists believe former Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp, a former Senator from North Dakota, is also in the running. While she comes from an agricultural state and served on the Senate Agriculture committee, 130 left-leaning groups sent a letter to Biden opposing her due to her support for Trump’s first EPA chief Scott Pruitt and her ties to the fossil fuel companies. While Fudge has strong progressive credentials, Heitkamp was one of the more conservative Democrats in the Senate.
Politico is also reporting that Illinois Congresswoman Cheri Bustos is under consideration. Bustos serves on the agriculture committee but represents a swing district which could make her appointment more challenging with Democrats holding a slim majority in the House. Former Congressman Colin Peterson, the former chair of the Agriculture Committee, could also be under consideration. Both Fudge and Bustos are being considered as the committee chair for the Agriculture Committee, so it is possible that one gets selected to lead the Department and the other is put in charge of the Congressional Committee.