Chris Tilly, a professor of urban planning at UCLA, was featured in a KQED report about the role of contractors in Silicon Valley, described by one tech worker as a “two-tiered caste system.” Contract workers have grown in prominence due to the ease of hiring and firing, as well as being cheaper than full-time employees. According to Tilly, “the advantages of the contractor model are even more valuable in the investor-dependent, quick-pivot world of Silicon Valley because it allows firms to quickly scale up and scale down projects with labor.” Despite doing the same work, contractors earn less and don’t share the same perks of benefits and stability as traditional full-time employees. Due to their precarious positions, many contract workers fear losing their jobs by speaking out. While workers in older industries are protected by unions, Tilly explained that “[Silicon Valley] companies start out with a blank slate,” making it difficult for contract workers to organize.
Dean Gary Segura and key members of the UCLA Luskin leadership team fielded questions from graduate students at an informal Town Hall on March 14, 2019. Joining Segura and his staff were Public Policy chair JR DeShazo, Social Welfare chair Laura Abrams, Urban Planning professor Chris Tilly and Undergraduate Affairs chair Meredith Phillips. Students submitted questions in advance and from the floor, and the dialogue touched on diversity in admissions and hiring, space issues in the Public Affairs building, teaching assistantships and other financial support, and opportunities to connect UCLA Luskin graduate and undergraduate students, among other topics. As the Town Hall coincided with Pi Day, members of the Association of Masters of Public Policy Students served pie to those present. A separate Town Hall for undergraduate students is planned for the spring quarter.
View a Flickr album of images from the Town Hall.
Professor of Urban Planning Chris Tilly and co-author Françoise Carré received the 2018 William G. Bowen Award for their jointly published work on retail job quality, “Where Bad Jobs Are Better.” The William G. Bowen Award for the Outstanding Book on Labor and Public Policy, named after the 17th president of Princeton University, is presented annually to the book making the most important contribution toward understanding public policy related to industrial relations and the operation of labor markets. “Where Bad Jobs Are Better” offers an empirically based account of the retail sector and the factors contributing to declining job quality. The book identifies room for improvement in the retail sector by comparing working conditions in the United States to Western European countries and Mexico. The authors argue that the low wages, unpredictable work schedules and limited opportunities for advancement that are often considered characteristic of retail jobs are not in fact inevitable. By illustrating the differences in “bad jobs” in different countries, Tilly’s “Where Bad Jobs Are Better” sets the foundation for improving working conditions in the retail sector.
In a Los Angeles Daily News article detailing the aftermath of the United Teachers Los Angeles strike, Urban Planning Professor Chris Tilly discussed the complicated dynamic of faculty relationships following the collective action. As teachers returned to their classrooms after the six-day walkout ended, some schools reported strike-created divisions among faculty. According to Tilly, an open dialogue will be essential to navigating tension between the teachers who participated in the United Teachers Los Angeles walkout and those who chose not to strike. Due to the relatively short duration of the strike, Tilly predicted that “there are going to be some bridges to rebuild and communication channels to establish but I wouldn’t expect it to be a highly traumatic strike.” Tilly urged administrators and union leaders to foster dialogue in order to move forward.
Professor of Urban Planning Chris Tilly spoke to The New York Times about undocumented immigrants in the U.S. labor force. Many employers, particularly those offering low-paid jobs, say there are few alternatives to hiring workers without legal documents, the article noted. Tilly said that expectations and status play a role in Americans’ willingness to do blue-collar jobs. “Not everybody will do dirty work,” he said. Historically, the regulation of the U.S.-Mexico border has “been driven by the needs of the economy,” he said, but that is less true under the Trump administration, which has sought to check illegal border crossings.
Urban Planning Professor Chris Tilly discussed Amazon’s failure to reverse the concentration of wealth and power in the United States in a Ringer article explaining disappointment in the company’s choice for a second headquarters. Amazon garnered national attention when it announced the search for a home for “HQ2,” inviting cities with at least 1 million residents, an established mass transit system and proximity to an international airport to apply. Many saw this as an opportunity to spur economic growth in cities beyond established hubs. However, Amazon ultimately chose two smaller sites in New York and Virginia — both close to CEO Jeff Bezos’ personal homes in Washington, D.C., and New York City. Many cities vying to lure HQ2 were never realistic options for Amazon, Tilly said. He added, “The whole thing was a show with the ultimate purpose of getting the best possible benefits from one or more cities on the short list they already had in mind. I don’t think there was a genuine process of scoring the map of the United States.”
Chris Tilly, professor of urban planning, is quoted in a Los Angeles Times story about the benefits of perks that include free passes and access to special events and attractions for employees working at Southern California theme parks. “It does enable you to hold on to good employees, but it also helps motivate people,” said Tilly, who studies labor markets and public policies directed toward better jobs. “You want them to be part of the team, and they are jazzed to be working there.”
Rodrigo Garcia, center, transportation planner for Alta Planning + Design, mentors visiting students. Photo by Stan Paul
By Mary Braswell
When 105 high school sophomores came together with urban planning students, professors and professionals at the UCLA Luskin School, everyone in the room stood to benefit.
The students came from two Central Los Angeles schools as part of Gear Up 4 LA, a federally funded program to put underserved students on the road to college.
The adults were there to support this mission but also to address the vexing lack of diversity in their field.
Many young people aren’t familiar with urban planning as a major or career path, said Rodrigo Garcia, MURP ’15, a transportation specialist with Alta Planning + Design. As part of the firm’s pro bono work, Garcia collaborates with schools across Los Angeles with the aim of diversifying the field.
“We want to urge these kids to have an impact, to make changes in their community” regardless of which career they choose, Garcia said.
Alta Planning hosted the March 22, 2018, event with the Luskin School’s Planners of Color for Social Equity and Urban Planning Womxn of Color Collective. UCLA Luskin professors Kian Goh, Chris Tilly and Goetz Wolff shared their expertise on the opportunities and challenges that planners face.
Two hours into the program, one student asked a question that many were likely thinking: “What is the exact definition of ‘urban planning’?”
“I get the same question from my mom,” said Mayra Torres, a fourth-year student majoring in sociology and minoring in urban and regional studies.
“If this were a class, I could spend the next 45 minutes having a discussion about this,” Goh said. The best way to think about the mission of urban planners, she said, is to “envision a better city, a better society, and how to get there from here.”
Sixteen-year-old Paola Flores was unfamiliar with the field before the event but left wanting to know more. She was impressed by a workshop led by Alta Planning’s Kevin Johnson, MURP ’17, who asked the students to chew over a planning issue, then create a meme, gif or Instagram story to communicate their ideas — all in an hour’s time.
“It taught me something new,” Paola said. “I didn’t realize how improving public transportation could actually make rent go up.”
Paola attends West Adams Preparatory High in the largely Latino and immigrant community of Pico-Union. Students from Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools in Koreatown were also at the event.
“We want to build a college-going culture in our community,” said David Gantt, the RFK site coordinator for Gear Up, which stands for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs.
Beginning in middle school, Gear Up guides low-income, first-generation and minority students through each step on the path to a higher education, Gantt said. Counselors work one-on-one with each student, and workshops show families how to read high school transcripts, interpret PSAT results and apply for financial aid, among other services. In some cases, the support extends through the freshman year of college.
Gear Up “makes you feel like you’re family, with arms wide open,” Paola said. Earlier this year, counselors detected that her grades were flagging, she said. They called her in, gave her a pep talk and “now I have all As except for one B.”
Gear Up students visit college campuses across Southern California, West Adams site coordinator Danny Tran said, but he believed this was the first group to visit an urban planning program.
“Students who want to build bridges or design roads might think they need an engineering degree, especially with the current emphasis on STEM,” Tran said.
The UCLA Luskin session introduced them to another path.
Greg Maher, a principal at Alta Planning who volunteered at the event, said he hoped the diverse group of students would get hooked on urban planning.
“This field is very white and very male. It drives me crazy,” said Maher, who received a BFA in design and certificate in landscape architecture from UCLA.
“We need to recruit and retain more planners of color,” agreed MURP candidate Raisa Ma, one of several UCLA Luskin Urban Planning students on hand to mentor the high schoolers. They included Marlene Salazar, who moderated a panel that included the three faculty members, undergrad Torres and MURP candidates Jacob Woocher and Jesus Peraza.
“I want you to know you can get an education, you can get a degree and change the world you live in,” Torres told the students.
Tilly noted that, as high school sophomores, “it’s early to decide, ‘Yes, I definitely want to be an urban planner.’ ” But he encouraged all the students to embrace both big ideas and on-the-ground issues in their communities. “That will be great for being an urban planner but also for being a responsible citizen in a society that needs a lot more responsible citizens stepping up.”
The current jobs outlook is worse for women who fill lower-paying, entry-level jobs primarily in food retail, according to the researchers. Photo by iStock
By Stan Paul
“The United States has a bad jobs problem, and retail jobs are at the heart of it.”
That’s the first line of a new book, “Where Bad Jobs are Better: Retail Jobs Across Countries and Companies (Russell Sage Foundation),” co-authored by UCLA Urban Planning professor Chris Tilly.
But, Tilly argues in the book, it does not need to be the last line for retail employment, especially when compared to the same jobs outside of the U.S. There is room to improve, according to Tilly and co-author Françoise Carré, research director at the Center for Social Policy at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.
What is responsible for this perception of the largest — and still growing — employment sector in the nation? Low wages, unstable working hours and flat advancement prospects top the list, as well as high turnover rates for employees and a drop in productivity. The current outlook is worse for women who fill lower-paying, entry-level jobs primarily in food retail as opposed to their male counterparts who fill the vast majority of higher-paying retail positions in management, according to Tilly and Carré.
In addition, the authors point out, “It is worth emphasizing here that the evidence is strong that employment in stores is here to stay for a long time to come, in spite of recent predictions of the imminent displacement of store-based retail by online sales.” Their book also touches on a number of current topics, including election-cycle debates on raising the federal minimum wage.
Searching for solutions, the authors started with a comparative “global shopping trip,” in which they made a rigorous study comparing the U.S. retail industry with the same sector in five Western European countries and Mexico. In doing so, they asked what national institutional settings make a difference in job quality and what “room for maneuver” retailers have, by country, to manage for better jobs.
In the richer countries in Western Europe, the authors found more job productivity, better and more regular hours and higher pay than in the U.S. in comparable jobs. For example, the pay was notably higher in France, and notice of work schedules was markedly better in Germany. The differences in social norms and the role of institutions and regulations in these countries have led to relatively better job quality than in the U.S., according to Tilly and Carré.
“Improving retail jobs does not necessarily mean turning them into unambiguously good jobs; retail jobs in our comparison countries are not terrific, but they are better in significant ways,” the authors report.
Tilly and Carré also assert that the U.S. can choose whether service jobs in retail will be bad or good. “Put in the simplest terms, U.S. bad jobs in retail and other low-wage industries will improve when changes are made in the institutional environment — laws, labor relations structures, and broadly held values — followed by changes in managerial approaches.”
The situation in Mexico, a poorer country when compared to the U.S. and the other countries studied, can be instructive. The authors note that the economic gap between Mexico and the U.S. might be the determining factor in comparing retail jobs. But, they add, this is only partly true. Using Wal-Mart as an example of a company that dominates retail sectors in both countries, they find that “even this behemoth behaves differently in terms of choice of market segments and labor strategies across countries.” For example, they point out that in the U.S., Wal-Mart is 100 percent non-unionized, whereas in Mexico, it pays higher wages than its competitors and is mostly unionized.
They explain, “Wal-Mart is not the exception to the influence of societal effects around the world, but rather demonstrates that influence. Even Wal-Mart provides better jobs where rules are better.”
The authors demonstrate that, by understanding where and why bad jobs are better, “we can learn how to make them better across the board.”
More about “Where Bad Jobs are Better,” including the complete introduction and a supplemental chapter, may be found online.
Ai-Jen Poo, left, and Urban Planning professor Chris Tilly take questions after her Regents Lecture. Photo by Roberto Gudino
By George Foulsham
Ai-Jen Poo’s voice fills with joy when she talks about her immigrant family, especially her 90-year-old grandmother, who lives in the same San Gabriel Valley apartment she shared with her now-deceased husband for many years. Her grandmother, Poo says, taught her how to appreciate and cultivate laughter.
“My grandmother is living life on her terms,” Poo said. “She is the author of her own story.” That’s not the case for millions of other immigrants, however, and that’s where Poo’s career path begins.
Poo is director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance and co-director of the Caring Across Generations campaign. The 2014 MacArthur Fellow has devoted much of her life to rights for domestic workers, especially those who take care of our aging population.
In a Regents Lecture sponsored by the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs’ departments of Social Welfare and Urban Planning, Poo spoke about women, the future of work and race. “The heart of it,” she said, “is the question of care: How do we take care of each other, our families and one another in this economy?”
In his introduction of Poo, Urban Planning professor Chris Tilly described her as “one of the nation’s foremost thinkers and doers on worker rights, the care crisis and how to build a society that cares for its elders, its children, its disabled, but also cares for those doing the caring.”
Poo told the story of Ms. Sun, a home care worker who tends to Poo’s grandmother’s needs — lifting, cleaning, shopping and even cooking when needed. “We truly count on Ms. Sun to be there for us,” Poo said. “It’s the work that makes all other work possible. In our family, it makes everything possible. What could be more important than caring for the people we love? Yet, it’s among some of the most undervalued and vulnerable work in our economy today.”
She also told the audience about Mirla Alvagado, a Filipina caregiver in Chicago who helps elders in the community to live independently. “She’s had over 20 clients, working 24 hour shifts, four days a week, lifting her clients in and out of bed, bathing, administrating medicine, helping do physical therapy, cooking and cleaning,” Poo said. “For this work, Mirla takes home between $7 and $9 per hour. With these wages, she supports five children in the Philippines. With that plus the cost of rent for the room she lives in, some weeks Mirla barely has any money to pay for food.”
A recent study by the Public Health Institute revealed that the median wage for home care workers is $15,000 per year. “I don’t know a single town in this country where you can survive, yet alone raise a family, on $15,000 a year,” Poo said. “We can do better than this in America and, as the country changes, we must do better.”
Poo spoke proudly of the progress being made by the National Domestic Worker’s Alliance.
“In 2010, we had our first big policy breakthrough when domestic workers, after a seven-year campaign, were successful in winning the very first domestic worker bill of rights in the nation,” she said. “Since then, five additional states have passed laws to protect the rights of domestic workers — including the state of California where we are working really hard in Sacramento to make our domestic worker bill of rights a permanent law.”
In 2015, after many years of advocacy by Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez, the Department of Labor changed a rule that brought 1.8 million home care workers under minimum wage and overtime protections after being excluded for eight years.
“We’re making progress, but it is not enough,” Poo said. “The future of work is at stake.”
People are living longer than ever before, she pointed out, because of advances in health care and technology, and Baby Boomers are starting to reach retirement age at a rate of one person every eight seconds — 10,000 people per day, 4 million people per year turning 65. The challenges will be daunting.
“We are going to need so much more care and support in the home that we’re going to need a very strong caregiving workforce to support all 21st century working families,” Poo said.
Home care workers are the fastest-growing occupation in the U.S. workforce, she added. By 2030, caregiving, child care and elder care combined will represent the largest occupation in the workforce.
“Perhaps the most important lessons we can learn from domestic workers is about care itself,” Poo said. “Care connects us to our most basic and universal needs as humanity. Coming together to bring value, dignity and worth to caregiving work and our caregiving relationships to help bring out the best in us as a nation.”