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.”

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.”


Tilly on Job Insecurity Even Amid a Labor Crunch

Urban Planning Chair Chris Tilly spoke to the New York Times about “just-in-time scheduling,” a labor practice based on customer demand that leads to great fluctuations in employee work hours. While some part-time workers prefer the flexibility of this model, many say it leaves them with too little income or an erratic schedule delivered on short notice. Nationwide, companies are complaining that they can’t fill jobs. Offering more full-time jobs would create a more stable work force, but many businesses are resistant to doing so, believing that the market will correct itself. Tilly said the increased reliance on part-time workers, particularly in the retail and hospitality industries, began decades ago, in part because of the mass entry of women into the work force. “A light bulb went on one day. ‘If we’re expanding part-time schedules, we don’t have to offer benefits, we can offer a lower wage rate,'” he explained.

Park on Heat-Related Worker Injuries

Assistant Professor of Public Policy R. Jisung Park was mentioned in an Agence France-Presse article about the impact of climate change on agricultural workers. Rising temperatures are increasingly threatening workers in the United States, resulting in greater health risks as well as negatively impacting performance. According to a recent study, 3 million workers in the United States experience at least one working week each year in temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Research shows that working in too much heat can cause fatigue, confusion, fainting and heat stroke. Park explained that, in California alone, “hotter temperatures may be causing upwards of tens of thousands of workplace injuries each year.” Increasing temperatures can result in decreased productivity and therefore loss of revenue, which impacts workers’ income. Experts recommend increasing worker protections, including access to shade, water and paid breaks, to protect the health and well-being of those in the workplace.

Tilly on Newfound American Labor Power

Urban Planning Professor Chris Tilly joined NewsNation Now to discuss the labor strikes going on across the country. “We’ve seen growing inequality in this country since the 1970s, so it makes sense for workers to point that out at a time when they have some leverage to do so,” Tilly said. The gap between the CEO and the worker has consistently grown in recent decades. Tilly explained that the power of unions depends on labor shortages and the supply chain, and workers now have more power than they have had in years. “That power is real, but we don’t know how long it will last,” he said. “If workers get [paid] more, that will contribute to inflation, but if what that means is that workers are getting a bigger piece of the pie, I would agree that that’s a good thing,” Tilly concluded.

Center for Innovation Report Finds Gaps in Heat Governance

A Los Angeles Times article about the deadly consequences of extreme heat highlighted a study by the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation. Extreme heat is becoming more frequent and severe as a result of global warming, but recent investigations show that the state has failed to address the growing threat of heat-related illness and death. The forthcoming Center for Innovation report described California’s regulation of extreme heat exposure as “fragmented across numerous state agencies” and “with no centrally responsible authority.” There are no heat exposure rules for schools, jails or prisons, and while California landlords are required to provide heating in rental units, there is no requirement for cooling. In places with heat illness prevention rules in place, such as assisted-living and childcare facilities, the extent of compliance and monitoring is unclear. Public health advocates call for coordinated statewide policies to prevent heat deaths and hospitalizations and protect those who work in hot settings.

Park on the Complexities of Heat-Related Work Injuries

Assistant Professor of Public Policy R. Jisung Park was featured in an LAist article discussing his research on the effects of rising temperatures on the labor force. California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) requires employers to give employees water, rest and shade while working in the heat, but the agency is chronically understaffed and underfunded. Meanwhile, reports of heat-related illness and death continue as temperatures rise. Using a computer model of temperature increases over 20 years and workers’ compensation claims, Park estimated that heat contributes to illness or injury among at least 15,000 California workers each year. He explained that many injuries are misclassified and are not necessarily categorized as heat-related, even if they should be. Park added that heat illness can occur at lower temperatures than expected, and that workers have reported experiencing heat exhaustion on days with temperatures as low as 75 degrees.