Tilly on Barriers Facing Union Organizing in Tech

Urban Planning Chair Chris Tilly spoke to KQED about the obstacles facing Silicon Valley workers who want to unionize. In recent years, tech employees have protested lack of diversity, mishandling of sexual harassment claims, and the second-class treatment of temporary workers and contractors. White-collar tech employees recently formed Alphabet Workers Union at the parent company of Google. According to Tilly, Silicon Valley companies such as Google have done a lot to make it difficult for workers to form unions. “There are a lot of barriers to building worker solidarity within Google,” he said. “Google and other tech companies have been effective at fissuring workers, hiring some as contractors, others as temps and also outsourcing labor around the globe,” Tilly explained. Workers are physically separated and have different employment statuses, including different wage and benefit packages, making it difficult to organize them around common goals.

Tilly Sees Opportunity for Retail Workers to Voice Concerns

Urban Planning Chair Chris Tilly was featured in a WWD article about the challenges facing front-line and retail workers during the pandemic. Big companies like Walmart and Amazon have made efforts to compensate their workers and institute safety measures, including staggering breaks, handing out protective gear, and offering one-time bonuses and temporary raises for employees. However, front-line workers still face increased risk of exposure to COVID-19 while working for low hourly wages and managing additional responsibilities. According to Tilly, highlighting inequalities has been one way worker advocacy groups have sought to frame the discussion, keeping the attention on workers speaking out about pay and safety issues. “Even though most retailers have backed off the hazard pay, or limited it to sort of one-off bonuses, there is, I think, in the general public a renewed respect for this workforce,” Tilly said. “I think that creates an opportunity … to advocate more for protections but also for more voice.”

L.A.-Paris Connection Offers New Double Master’s Degree for Urban Planners UCLA Luskin's partnership with a top European university will allow graduate students to earn two distinct degrees in two years

By Mary Braswell

A new partnership between UCLA and a top European research university offers urban planning students an opportunity to earn two distinct master’s degrees in two years while studying in the global cities of Los Angeles and Paris.

Beginning in the fall of 2021, the highly regarded urban planning programs at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and France’s Sciences Po will join forces to offer a double master’s focusing on global and comparative planning and governance.

Students accepted into the program will be immersed in two thriving urban laboratories where perspectives on managing cities are quite distinct.

“The approach to urban governance in France and across Europe is very different from the American approach,” said Professor Chris Tilly, chair of UCLA Luskin Urban Planning. “This double master’s is a unique opportunity to learn how things are done in different cultures and to bring that knowledge to a range of global urban environments.”

‘There could not be a better two-city laboratory for learning how to become an urbanist today.’ — Professor Michael Storper

Students will spend the first year in Los Angeles, where UCLA Luskin offers rigorous training in urban planning, development and design with a strong emphasis on social, environmental and racial justice.

Year 2 will be spent at the Paris campus of Sciences Po’s Urban School, which takes a deep comparative and critical approach to public administration and the social transformation of cities. English is the language of instruction at the Urban School, which attracts students from across the globe.

Upon completion of the program, students will receive two degrees: a Master of Urban and Regional Planning from UCLA Luskin and a Master of Governing the Large Metropolis from the Urban School.

“By creating this dual degree, we get the best of both worlds,” said Professor Michael Storper, who holds appointments at both UCLA Luskin and Sciences Po. “Paris and Los Angeles are both world cities, but they couldn’t be more different in lifestyle and layout.

“Paris is historical, dense, public-transit oriented. And yet, the cities share many of the same challenges for planners, such as economic development, infrastructure, gentrification and housing, diversity and segregation, public space and climate change,” said Storper, a French-American citizen and resident of both cities.

The double master’s program is geared toward students seeking to work internationally or to bring a global perspective to urban planning in their home countries. And the opportunity to study abroad and build a network of friends and colleagues from around the world will be particularly welcome after travel restrictions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic are lifted.

What sets this program apart from other international exchange programs is that it grants two degrees in urban planning, accredited in the United States and Europe, in the time normally needed to earn just one.

Across the University of California system, only one other similar international partnership exists: a double executive MBA program offered by the UCLA Anderson School of Management and the National University of Singapore.

The alliance between UCLA Luskin Urban Planning and the Urban School dates back to 2016, with the launch of a quarter-long student exchange program. To build on that relationship, a team from UCLA Luskin, including Storper, Associate Dean Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris and past Urban Planning Chair Vinit Mukhija, advocated for the double master’s program, which required approval from UCLA and the UC Office of the President.

By design, the program will be small and selective. The roughly 15 students accepted into each year’s cohort will complete coursework and internships integrating theory and scholarship with real professional experiences, preparing them for work in the public, private and nonprofit sectors in any region of the world.

Applications to join the program in fall of 2021 are due on January 31. More information is available on the UCLA Luskin website. 

“This program is a natural fit of two great universities and two great cities that are complementary in their differences,” Storper said. “There could not be a better two-city laboratory for learning how to become an urbanist today.”

Tilly Explains Business Model Behind Prop. 22

Urban Planning Professor Chris Tilly was featured on KCRW’s Greater L.A. discussing the pros and cons of Proposition 22 on the November ballot. If passed, Proposition 22 would reclassify app-based drivers with companies such as Uber, Lyft, Postmates and Doordash as independent contractors. This would exempt them from Assembly Bill 5, which classifies many gig economy workers as employees entitled to pay and benefits required by law. Tilly said these app-based companies rely on independent contracts to sustain their business model. “Their main cost is paying drivers. So it’s been a competitive strategy to draw in the drivers. … They can always offer them a particular price — take it or leave it,” he said. The app-based companies have spent millions on pro-Proposition 22 campaigning, and some have threatened to shut down service in California if it doesn’t pass. Opponents argue that the hidden costs of app-based driving, such as vehicle upkeep and waiting times between rides, will hurt drivers and decrease their profits.

Tilly Comments on Rise of Cleaning Robots

Urban Planning Professor Chris Tilly spoke to the Washington Post about the rapid spread of cleaning robots. Many hospitals, airports and other businesses are investing in cleaning robots that use ultraviolet light to disinfect rooms faster and more thoroughly than most human workers. The robots also help maintain social distancing standards. Some robots are used in tandem with human workers to speed up the cleaning process, but many working-class people face heightened risks of losing their jobs due to increasing automation. Tilly noted that this type of Big Tech adoption could disproportionately affect women and people of color, who hold retail and custodial jobs in greater numbers. However, he added that it does take a fair amount of time to train robots, making some hesitant to invest in the new technology. In some cases, robots were still struggling to learn shelf inventory after being in stores for nearly a year.

Tilly Describes Impact of COVID on Retail Sector

A new Retail Dive article highlights Urban Planning Professor Chris Tilly’s research on the impacts of technology on retail in order to better understand pandemic job losses. Tilly and co-author Françoise Carré’s research paper “Change and Uncertainty, Not Apocalypse: Technological Change and Store-Based Retail” delves into the technological and structural shifts occurring within the retail sector. They found that e-commerce, decentralized checkout and other technologies could eliminate cashier jobs and even some management jobs. Tilly also noted the racial implications of such industry changes; job losses are prevalent in the general merchandise sector, which employs far higher percentages of women and people of color, while the growing e-commerce sector is considerably whiter and more male. COVID-19 has accelerated change within the retail sector as contactless checkout and curbside pickup options emerge and online sales skyrocket, heightening the uncertainties faced by retail workers.

Tilly Co-Authors New Report on Future of Retail

New technologies in the retail sector are likely to mean more monitoring and coercion of workers, and a stronger advantage for large companies like Walmart and Amazon, according to a new report co-authored by Chris Tilly, professor and chair of UCLA Luskin Urban Planning. E-commerce has accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic, but stores have still remained an important way of selling goods, according to Tilly and co-author Françoise Carré, research director of the Center for Social Policy at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. “During the peak of the lockdowns, 70% of people in the U.S. were still buying groceries in stores,” Tilly said. “And for those that order groceries online, a worker collects their goods from the store and makes them available for curbside pickup or delivery. This shows how technology is in many cases changing workers’ jobs rather than eliminating them.” In addition to changing the mix of tasks that workers are expected to carry out, employers are likely to deploy new technologies in ways that increase the monitoring and surveillance of retail workers. “We have been hearing about e-commerce wiping out retail stores and jobs, but our two years of research tell a very different story,” Carré said.  The report is part of a broader multi-industry research project led by the UC Berkeley Labor Center and Working Partnerships USA that examines the impact of new technologies on work. The project is supported by the Ford Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the Open Society Foundations.

Tilly on the Deterioration of Worker Protections

A KQED podcast series on how American workers have lost benefits, power and protections over the last few decades spoke with Urban Planning Professor Chris Tilly, an authority on labor economics. Tilly explained the phenomenon of the “fissured workplace,” where full-time employees work side by side with part-timers, temps, gig workers and contractors. Some classes of workers receive no health coverage, overtime pay, worker’s compensation or other protections, increasing company profits while breaking up worker solidarity. Tilly described a job he held in the late 1970s at a hospital that directly employed not just health-care professionals, but cafeteria staff, custodians and maintenance workers. Now, such positions would be outsourced at many companies, a trend that emerged not from new laws or regulations but from “an experimentation process,” he said. By testing existing legal boundaries, Tilly said, managers and executives discovered that “we could get away with this, there’s nothing stopping us from doing this.” Tilly’s segment begins at minute 23:35.

Tilly on Challenges Facing Minority Business Owners

Urban Planning Professor Chris Tilly was featured in a Wave Newspapers article on providing support to minority businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. Even after the federal government launched programs to provide low-interest loans to small businesses during the pandemic, confusing documentation and inflexible standards have made obtaining loans a burden for many entrepreneurs, especially those who don’t speak English as a first language. “A major difficulty non-native speakers encounter in filing for a federal loan is in deciphering the technical financial language required to fill out the necessary paperwork,” Tilly explained. “If English is a second language for you, there’s all kinds of unfamiliar words, idiomatic usages and financial terms that might be understandable to the average English speaker but baffling to a person who is still learning English or using Google to make sense of the form.” The article noted that nonprofit organizations are stepping in to guide entrepreneurs through the complexities of accessing loans.

Tilly on Labor Inequities in Big Tech

Urban Planning Professor Chris Tilly spoke with KQED about the disparities in benefits that contract workers experience compared to full-time workers — a gap that has been put into sharp focus by the coronavirus outbreak. At big tech firms, in particular, a significant number of workers are contractors who receive vastly different benefits and pay packages. In the current pandemic, offers to allow employees to work from home may not apply to contractors, for example. Tilly said that white-collar contracting, which is also on the rise in a number of industries beyond tech, creates a “fissuring” of the workplace. “These fissures undermine the U.S. safety net, which depends crucially on employment status, since contractors are considered self-employed and generally receive no benefits at all,” he said. “An emergency situation like the current one worsens the impact of the inequities, and intensifies confusion and the complexities of mounting an effective response.”