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.
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.
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.
Public Policy Professor Mark Peterson spoke with California Healthline about prospects that unions defending Gov. Gavin Newsom against a recall attempt will in return seek stronger action on instituting single-payer health insurance in California. Organized labor made hundreds of thousands of dollars in political contributions, purchased ads and phone-banked to defend Newsom ahead of Tuesday’s recall election. “This is a crucial moment for Newsom, and for his supporters who are lining up behind him,” said Peterson, who specializes in the politics of health care. “They’re helping him stay in office, but that comes with an expectation for some action.” In 2018, Newsom made a campaign pledge to establish a government-run, single-payer health care system in the state, but it’s unclear whether he could deliver such a massive shift. In addition, if he withstands the recall, the governor will face competing demands to reward supporters pushing for action on issues such as homelessness, climate change and public safety.
Urban Planning Chair Chris Tilly was featured in an Associated Press article about the growing strength of union workers. A nationwide worker shortage spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic has given union workers an opportunity to demand higher wages and better working conditions. “Low-end jobs more typically have a labor surplus,” Tilly said. “But there are also shortages at higher skill levels, including jobs where there are chronic shortages like nurses, machinists and teachers.” Tilly predicted that, as the job market starts to slow in coming months, union workers may lose some of their newly claimed bargaining power. “As long as the economy is growing — and growing at a relatively vigorous pace — that’s going to continue helping workers, and for that matter, dealing unions a better hand, too,” he explained. “But we are not necessarily in a new era that’s going to look exactly like it has for the last few months.”
Latinos in non-union jobs were seven times more likely than Latinos in labor unions to fall into unemployment during three key months early in the pandemic, according to a new report by the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative.
The report also found that Black and Latino union workers had higher wages than their counterparts in non-union jobs during the pandemic, but that both groups still received lower pay than white workers in union jobs.
Following previous studies demonstrating that Latinos faced disproportionate public health and economic consequences during the pandemic, the new report highlights the benefits that labor unions can provide to vulnerable workers during an economic crisis, said Sonja Diaz, the founding director of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative.
“Labor unions gave us child labor regulations, work-free weekends and the collective power to demand better conditions,” Diaz said. “Our report shows that during economic downturns such as the one we faced amid COVID-19, union jobs can also provide much-needed stability for workers and their families.”
The report’s authors analyzed data from the Current Population Survey, which is conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, to understand the impact of the pandemic on employment rates, wages and union protections between January 2020 and June 2021. The time frame was chosen so the researchers could compare conditions from the outset of the pandemic in the U.S., the months of uncertainty that followed and the time period when policy actions began to spur an economic recovery.
Unionized workers of all races and ethnicities were less likely than non-union workers to experience job loss during the height of the economic downturn, but the report found that the effect was most pronounced among Latinos. For example, from April to June 2020, the employment rate for Latinos in labor unions fell by only 2.5%, while the employment rate for all union workers declined by 10.2%. During the same period, the employment rate for Latinos who were not in labor unions declined by 18.5%, representing a loss of nearly 4.3 million jobs.
Diaz said the nation’s economic recovery is inextricably tied to how well Latinos can bounce back from the setbacks they experienced during the pandemic. The report recommends policy actions including passage of the Protecting the Right to Organize Act of 2021, a bill that would make it harder for employers to obstruct organizing efforts. The legislation is currently awaiting action in the U.S. Senate.
“The economic devastation spurred by COVID-19 made it clear that it’s essential to build more resiliency and strengthen wages for the nation’s workers, particularly for groups that are most vulnerable during a crisis,” said UCLA research analyst Misael Galdamez, the report’s lead author. “Unionization is an important tool to give workers the economic stability and dignity that they deserve.”
Previous research by the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative has examined other aspects of how the pandemic has affected the nation’s economy and labor force, including one study which found that Latinas were more likely to drop out of the workforce than workers from other demographic groups.
Greg Pierce, co-director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, spoke to ProPublica about the climate gap, which refers to the disproportionate and unequal impacts of the climate crisis. Across the United States, people of color, the poor and the undocumented are more likely to live in hotter places and less likely to have access to potable water. In Thermal, California, the population is 99% Latino, and many residents live in mobile trailer homes without clean running water or air conditioning. How mobile homes are going to fare in the climate crisis is, “quite frankly, not the sexiest to academics,” said Pierce, noting that residents of older manufactured housing are at great risk. In California, mobile homes are disproportionately located in the hottest census tracts, and poor insulation can drive up cooling costs. Furthermore, mobile homes built before 1976 are not up to date with new building and safety standards, creating additional safety hazards.
A Science News article on the effects of extreme heat on human behavior cited research by R. Jisung Park, assistant professor of public policy. As temperatures rise, violence and aggression also go up while focus and productivity decline, the article noted, adding that lower-income people and countries are likely to suffer the most. “The physiological effects of heat may be universal, but the way it manifests … is highly unequal,” Park said. The article described Park’s research into the impact of hot days on student performance on standardized tests. One of his studies found that students in schools without air conditioning scored lower than would have been expected, and that Black and Hispanic students were more likely to attend school and test in hotter buildings compared to their white counterparts. A separate study by Park, described in Safety+Health magazine, found that hotter temperatures are linked to a significant increase in the risk of workplace injuries and accidents.
Paid sick and medical leave is a powerful tool for preventing the spread of COVID-19 and other diseases and ensuring all workers have access to treatment, yet tens of millions of American workers lack coverage. The U.S. is one of just 11 countries in the world without a national, permanent paid medical leave policy, according to new research led by Jody Heymann, distinguished professor of public health, public policy and medicine. Further, unpaid leave provided by the U.S. Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is restricted by eligibility rules that have created marked racial and gender gaps, said Heymann, who directs the WORLD Policy Analysis Center at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. The study, published in Health Affairs, included these findings:
- In the private sector, 18.7% of Latinas, compared to just 8.4% of white men, lack access to FMLA leave because of its minimum annual hours requirement.
- Requiring one year with the same employer excludes higher shares of Black (22%), Indigenous (22.9%) and self-identified multiracial (27.7%) workers than white workers (19%).
- Over a third of private-sector workers are employed by a business with fewer than 50 employees, making them ineligible for FMLA benefits.
The study’s analysis of data from 181 countries found that providing paid sick and medical leave to all workers — including the self-employed, a group commonly excluded from key social security and labor protections — is readily achievable. “Only by ensuring we design our paid leave policies to reach every worker can we protect public health and take one important step toward rectifying the longstanding and devastating racial and socioeconomic inequalities that have only intensified during this pandemic,” Heymann said.
Urban Planning Chair Chris Tilly spoke to Grocery Dive and Business Insider about the growing labor shortage, which comes as many retail employees are demanding improved working conditions. “Consumer demand is expanding faster than people are able and willing to go back into the labor force,” Tilly explained. “I don’t think we’re at a point where workers have permanently gained the upper hand, but I would be cautious about saying exactly when the power is going to shift back more to employers.” In the grocery sector, Tilly recommended that employers market their positions as opportunities for growth and advancement, in addition to offering higher wages. “Back when retail was a relatively desirable job, part of what made it that way was you actually could have a retail career, and it was not just a very small number of people who became supervisors and managers and took that path to the top,” he said.