Tilly on Grocery Store Employees’ Rights

Chris Tilly, professor and chair of Urban Planning, spoke to Fast Company and Public News Service about the rights of grocery store employees in both the United States and Europe. In the Fast Company article, Tilly compared American cashiers to their counterparts in Europe, where cashiers are allowed to be seated while working. A blend of standing and sitting would be a recommended health benefit for employees, Tilly said, but “no country seems to have adopted that as a standard.” In the Public News Service article, Tilly commented on the merger of Albertsons and Kroger, grocery store chains that promised to honor union agreements. Tilly noted that there are no guarantees. “Workers are rightly skeptical of that, particularly because when Albertsons and Safeway merged, they spun off 168 stores and quite soon a lot of those stores closed,” he said.

Tilly on Costco’s Labor Policy

Urban Planning chair Chris Tilly appeared on Yahoo Finance Live to discuss Costco’s labor policy and the impact of the Teamsters Union reaching a contract with the big-box retailer. Tilly was asked about the increasing pressure on Costco as some competitors raise employee benefits — and prices — to try to be more competitive. “I think that there’s two sources of pressure. One is, in fact, that competitor pressure,” Tilly said. “Nonetheless, there’s also a source of pressure because as inflation goes up, workers’ expenses go up. And Costco has to keep pace with that.” As an example, Tilly explained that, during negotiations, Costco offered a settlement that workers turned down in August, threatening to go on strike. “And so I think that’s the other source of pressure. And that’s going to continue, both because inflation is continuing and because right now the worker shortage is continuing.”


Tilly on Labor Needs Met by Relocated Migrants

The New York Times and NewsNation spoke to Urban Planning chair Chris Tilly for an article about immigrants who found steady work and a fresh start after being moved from Texas, Florida and Arizona to Democratic strongholds. While the high-profile relocation of thousands of migrants has created a burgeoning humanitarian crisis, straining the resources of cities trying to provide social services, it has also cast light on the economics of supply and demand. Many of the migrants are Venezuelans who have applied for asylum, allowing them to receive employment permits while their cases are pending. Others remain in the shadows, trying to find work without legal documentation. Many have found jobs in construction, hospitality, retail, trucking and other sectors facing worker shortages in an economy still recovering from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. “In most big cities, including the ones where governors are shipping migrants, employers are scrambling to find workers,” Tilly said. “They are meeting a need.”


Crenshaw Project Stresses Community Voice

Urban Planning chair Chris Tilly and three graduate students appeared on the radio program “Everything Co-Op” to share their experiences working with residents of Los Angeles’ Crenshaw District on a community development strategy. As part of the UCLA Urban Planning Community Collaborative, the master’s students partnered with Crenshaw residents to research and report on their top priorities. “Their No. 1 concern was increasing community control and Black self-determination, Black sovereignty, over a predominantly Black community,” Tilly said. In a conversation that touched on gentrification, environmental equity, food and housing insecurity, and the creation of high-quality jobs, Tilly and students Eliza Jane Franklin, Geoff Gusoff and Ernest Johnson stressed the importance of letting community members lead. During the collaboration, the students learned about cooperatives, affordable housing, community land trusts and other resources, Tilly said, but “the most important thing that students should be learning in this kind of project is how to work with people in the community.”


Tilly on Rise in Union Organizing

Urban Planning chair Chris Tilly spoke to the Wall Street Journal about a steep rise in the number of U.S. workplaces where employees have started trying to organize unions. In the first half of the year, workers at 1,411 U.S. workplaces filed petitions with the National Labor Relations Board, the first step in joining a union. That figure represents a 69% increase from the same period in 2021 and the most of any year since 2015. The story also cited a Gallup poll last year that found that 68% of Americans approve of unions, the highest share since 1965. Still, the share of American workers who belong to unions — roughly 10% — remains low by historical standards. Economists say workers, whether in unions or not, are benefiting from a significant labor shortage in some industries where employers are struggling to fill open positions. “Tight labor markets certainly are conducive to organizing and to workers having more leverage in general,” Tilly said.


Tilly on Retail Workers’ Fight for Better Conditions

Grocery Dive spoke with Urban Planning chair Chris Tilly about evolving labor dynamics in the supermarket industry and other large retailers. Energized by a pandemic-spurred labor shortage, workers and labor advocates have made progress in their quest for better working conditions, including higher pay, guaranteed hours, and stronger health and retirement benefits. However, in an age of declining union membership and pressure on businesses to hold down expenses, it will be difficult for workers to make significant long-term gains in their relationships with large companies, Tilly said. In the past, publicly traded retailers were often controlled by families that could make workers a priority, but today they frequently answer to large-scale investors, like mutual fund managers, who are focused on quarterly results, he said. “Shareholders trying to squeeze dividends and increase share price … shifted the balance of power within public companies,” Tilly said.


Tilly Wins Award From Labor Relations Group

Urban Planning chair Chris Tilly has been named a 2022 Academic Fellow by the Labor and Employee Relations Association (LERA). The award, which recognizes scholars who have made contributions of unusual distinction to the field of labor and employee relations, was given at the association’s annual membership meeting, held virtually from June 3-5. Françoise Carré of the University of Massachusetts, Boston, was also honored with an Academic Fellow award. Tilly and Carré are co-authors of the award-winning 2017 book “Where Bad Jobs Are Better,” which identifies room for improvement in the U.S. retail sector. Citing a rigorous study of working conditions in seven countries, the authors conclude that low wages, unpredictable work schedules and limited opportunities for advancement are not inevitable characteristics of the retail sector. Tilly and Carré also collaborated on a chapter in 2020’s “Creating Good Jobs: An Industry-Based Strategy.” The LERA Academic Fellow awards are given annually to scholars who have served more than 10 years studying disciplines including industrial relations, labor law, economics, human resources, business, sociology, political science and organizational behavior. The nonprofit association also bestows Fellow Awards on practitioners in the labor and employment relations field. A full list of the award winners is available on the LERA site.


Tilly on Gap Between Salary Expectations and Reality

A USA Today story about a survey showing that college students expect to make more than $100,000 in their first post-graduation jobs cited Urban Planning chair Chris Tilly, an authority on labor markets and equity. The actual average starting salary for new graduates is $55,260, the story said. But experts say that, in some parts of the country, six-figure incomes are necessary to cover the basic cost of living, which has greatly outpaced the growth of wages and salaries over the last five decades. “The federal minimum wage is, in inflation-adjusted terms, much lower than it was in the early ’70s,” Tilly said. “Wages and salaries have not kept up with housing costs, have not kept up with higher education, tuition costs. And so that sort of disjuncture, that mismatch between the reality of costs and their reality of pay, I think is distorting the way that a lot of young people are looking at the world.”


‘A Sense of Real Possibility for the City of L.A.’ Faced with a monumental housing crisis, we must think creatively and push harder, Councilwoman Nithya Raman tells a UCLA audience

By Mary Braswell

Nithya Raman was elected to the Los Angeles City Council on a platform focused on tackling the region’s dual crises of homelessness and sky-high housing costs. Sixteen months after taking office, she came to UCLA to provide an update on how the fight is going.

Citing lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic, Raman said the key to sheltering unhoused Angelenos is a culture of saying yes to creative living solutions of all types, as long as they offer dignity and privacy — not just a bed in a crowded facility.

“That could be motel or hotel rooms, that could be tiny homes, that could be shared apartments where you have a separate bedroom and a shared kitchen — any place where you have a room with a door,” Raman said. “When you offer someone who is experiencing homelessness the ability to go to a room with a door, the experience is really transformative.”

The successes and shortcomings of pandemic-era housing interventions was one topic in a wide-ranging talk by Raman, who came to UCLA’s Kerckhoff Hall on April 14 as part of the University of California Regents’ Lecturer program.

In a conversation moderated by UCLA Luskin Urban Planning chair Chris Tilly, Raman spoke about Los Angeles’ complicated history of land use, which led to the city’s current struggle to provide its residents with safe and affordable housing.

And as an urban planner by training, she stressed the importance of reliable data — including the results of a countywide homeless count, due to be finalized this summer — to gauge the impact of programs and investments and map a path forward. 

“What I’m seeing is something really different from what I saw when I was out of City Hall, which is a moment when people are actually getting indoors,” said Raman, who represents L.A.’s District 4, stretching from Los Feliz to Reseda.

“But we don’t have the data to show, did they actually move in enough numbers so that we chipped away at this massive amount of homelessness that we faced in our district? Or did we not do enough during this period of the pandemic?

“I really want to make sure that we’re moving forward with that data in hand and with a sense of real possibility for the city of L.A.”

Raman’s lecture was part of UCLA Luskin Urban Planning’s commemoration of its 50-year anniversary. Her audience included several UCLA Luskin alumni, plus undergraduate and graduate students who may aspire to careers in public service.

Ensuring that Los Angeles’ housing stock continues to grow to meet demand requires saying yes to many approaches all at once, she said.

Cities or nonprofits could lease entire buildings and rent each apartment to voucher holders. Lifting the requirement to include parking in a new development could lead to the construction of smaller, less expensive living spaces attractive to transit riders such as students and young professionals. And developers should be pressed to include more affordable units in high-end properties, she said.

“One of the ways in which we’ve increased affordable housing is actually by creating density bonus programs for market-rate development,” Raman said. “And yet, I hear you. It is galling to see homelessness on our streets and luxury apartments going up, right next to each other.”

Repeating a phrase used throughout the lecture, Raman said the city should push harder. Push to require more of developers who receive lucrative incentives. Push to streamline a permitting process that has put a drag on the construction of housing. And push to ensure that residents aren’t priced out of their own neighborhoods.

“You can build more while still being totally dedicated to protecting tenants who are currently in their housing. And we can do that if we try,” she said.

Raman, the first challenger in 17 years to unseat an incumbent L.A. City Council member, described her experiences working as an outsider to effect change from within the halls of government.

“It’s the daily struggle,” she said. “How do you operate within a system — many aspects of which you find fundamentally unjust — while still moving that system towards change?”

She spoke of choosing her battles, sometimes speaking out forcefully but other times opting for quiet diplomacy to push her top legislative priorities.

“The more people who come in that share a set of values around what L.A. can be and should look like, I think the less you’ll have to make those kinds of choices.”

With their overwhelming support for taxes and bond measures to pay for the fight against homelessness, the people of Los Angeles have proclaimed a “widespread sentiment of ‘yes,’ ” she said.

“We all actually want it. I feel like that’s what every single conversation I have with people shows,” Raman said. “We can build it, we can build it right. We can do this, we can do it right. We can treat people with dignity and help them to get indoors.

“Everyone says, ‘Hell, yes, that’s what I want.’ ”

View photos and video of the lecture. 

Tilly Offers Tips for Employee Retention

In a New Hope article, Urban Planning Chair Chris Tilly offered three tips on how to keep businesses fully staffed in a challenging labor market. Health and safety concerns during the pandemic and complaints about poor working conditions have left many industries struggling to fill positions. Many workers have refused to settle for unsafe and stressful jobs that don’t pay enough. According to Tilly, “attracting good employees comes down to pay and respect,” so businesses must offer enough money to employees, as well as respectful treatment and appropriate safety conditions. He also recommended “selling the job during the interviews” and considering changes to make the job more attractive. To maximize employee retention, he recommended investing time and effort into hands-on training for new employees. “There is nothing more frustrating to a new employee than being thrown into a retail situation without enough background,” he said.