Tilly on What It Will Take to Improve Retail Jobs

The U.S. retail industry has been rocked by COVID-19, but the momentary spotlight on essential workers shows little sign of bringing lasting improvements to their work lives, according to an article co-written by Urban Planning Chair Chris Tilly. Only regulatory pressure promises to strengthen protections for retail workers, Tilly and co-author Françoise Carré concluded in the piece for the Good Companies, Good Jobs Initiative. The COVID-19 shutdown, along with rapid technological change, has triggered high levels of unemployment and undermined employer interest in basic job improvement measures, they wrote. On the tech front, “the e-commerce boom is most obvious, but a less visible — and quite ominous — shift is the spread of worker surveillance,” which has led to complaints that faulty systems have been used to discipline employees unfairly. Tilly and Carré are co-authors of the 2017 book “Where Bad Jobs Are Better” and collaborated on a chapter in 2020’s “Creating Good Jobs: An Industry-Based Strategy.”


Millions of Latinos at Risk of Job Displacement by Automation

The potential acceleration of job automation spurred by COVID-19 will disproportionately affect Latinos in U.S. service sector jobs, according to a new report from the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative at UCLA Luskin. The report calls on state and local officials to start planning now to implement programs to support and retrain these workers. Researchers looked at occupational data from the six states with the largest Latino populations and found an overrepresentation of Latinos in industries where jobs are more susceptible to automation, including construction, leisure and hospitality, agriculture, and wholesale or retail trade. More than 7.1 million Latinos, representing almost 40% of the Latino workforce in those six states — Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, New York and Texas — are at high risk of being displaced by automation, the report shows. “As Latinos take a disproportionate financial hit from the COVID-19 crisis, now is a good time to focus on increasing training opportunities and to strengthen the social safety net to catch workers who are left behind,” said Rodrigo Dominguez-Villegas, the report’s author and director of research at the policy initiative. A failure to prepare Latinos for jobs in the digital economy and other growing sectors will come with economic repercussions to the U.S. by creating a shortage of skilled workers in an aging and shrinking labor force, the report says. The research will be used as a baseline for discussion at a convening this month of policymakers, industry leaders, training organizations and higher education administrators organized by the Aspen Institute’s Latinos and Society Program. — Eliza Moreno


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.

The Cost of Excluding Undocumented Workers From Stimulus Funds

The federal government’s decision to exclude undocumented residents from the $1,200 stimulus payments given to taxpayers during the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a loss of $10 billion in potential economic output, a UCLA study has found. It also cost 82,000 jobs nationally and 17,000 jobs in California, according to the study, a collaboration among UCLA’s Latino Policy and Politics InitiativeNorth American Integration and Development Center and Institute for Research on Labor and Employment. Undocumented workers and their families contributed more than $1.6 trillion to the nation’s gross domestic product in 2018 through shopping and workforce activities, and their reduced purchasing power amid a looming recession is both a public health and economic crisis, said Raul Hinojosa, an associate professor of Chicano studies and the report’s lead author. “It is cruel to deny undocumented residents financial assistance as unemployment rates skyrocket, but it’s also counterproductive fiscal policy that has negative consequences for all Americans who benefit from their economic contributions,” he said. The national unemployment rate for undocumented workers reached 29% in May, much higher than the rate for any other demographic group. The study found that the economic benefits of including undocumented workers in future relief efforts would outweigh the costs. The economic activity generated by undocumented immigrants spending the tax credits they would receive under the HEROES Act, currently being debated in Congress, would support 112,000 jobs nationally and produce $14 billion in economic output — which would far exceed the $9.5 billion price tag of including them in recovery efforts. — Eliza Moreno


Global Study Finds Critical Gaps in Workplace Protections Laws prohibiting discrimination are key to ensuring equal economic opportunity, UCLA researchers say

As throngs of people around the world stand in solidarity with American protesters calling for an end to racial injustice, a sweeping study of 193 countries by the UCLA WORLD Policy Analysis Center reveals critical gaps in legal protections against discrimination on the job.

Nearly one in four countries continue to have no legal protection from discrimination at work based on race and ethnicity, according to the study, just published in the journal Equality, Diversity and Inclusion.

This is not a question of a nation’s resources, researchers found. In fact, high-income countries do slightly worse: 28% of high-income countries fail to have any protections, compared to 19% of low-income countries and 23% of middle-income countries.

Even in countries that prohibit discrimination, substantial gaps in legal protections exist. Globally, 51% of countries offer no protection from retaliation against workers who report discriminatory treatment based on race or ethnicity, preventing individuals from accessing justice, the study revealed.

Moreover, laws against discrimination often provided only partial protection or failed to specify areas covered. The study analyzed laws and regulations governing hiring, pay, promotions and demotions, terminations and harassment in all 193 members of the United Nations.

“Discrimination at work persists across countries, but there is powerful evidence that anti-discrimination laws can make a difference,” said Jody Heymann, founder of the WORLD Policy Analysis Center and a distinguished professor of public policy, health policy and management, and medicine at UCLA. “All the world’s countries have agreed to address inequality, over and over again, at the U.N. This cannot be achieved without providing legal guarantees to non-discrimination at work for all people.”

In addition to race and ethnicity, WORLD researchers assessed gaps in national legislation protecting against discrimination based on sex, parenting status, gender identity, sexual orientation, migrant status and foreign national origin, among other groupings. Among the findings:

• 53% of the countries do not guarantee equal pay for work of equal value based on sex
• 62% do not prohibit discrimination based on parenting status
• 68% do not guarantee protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation
• 90% do not guarantee protection from discrimination at work based on gender identity
• 62% do not guarantee protection from discrimination based on migrant status
• 62% do not guarantee protection from discrimination based on foreign national origin

“Equal access to decent work is one of the most promising ways to end cycles of poverty, yet discrimination on the job persists,” said study co-author Amy Raub, principal research analyst at WORLD. “Legal protection from workplace discrimination is a critical first step to ensuring equal opportunities for economic success.”

In addition to the newly published research, the WORLD Policy Analysis Center has posted detailed data, maps, charts and policy briefs on workplace discrimination in four categories: race and ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation and gender identity, and migrant status.

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 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.”


Yaroslavsky on Labor-Tech Faceoff as a Campaign Barometer

Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin, spoke to the Associated Press about a faceoff between Big Labor and Big Tech that has become an issue in the Democratic presidential primary. Several major Democratic White House hopefuls have expressed support for a California bill backed by labor and opposed by tech giants such as Uber and Lyft, the article said. The bill would make it harder for tech companies to classify workers as independent contractors, who are not entitled to minimum wage or workers’ compensation. “It says something about where the candidates think the primary voters are on this issue,” Yaroslavsky said. They “may believe that labor can be more helpful to them than the high-tech companies can be to them in a caucus state or a primary.”


Tilly’s ‘Where Bad Jobs Are Better’ Earns Book Prize

Professor Chris Tilly with his prize-winning book at the American Sociological Association’s annual meeting.

“Where Bad Jobs Are Better: Retail Jobs Across Countries and Companies,” written by Urban Planning Professor Chris Tilly and Françoise Carré, received the 2019 Distinguished Scholarly Monograph Award from the American Sociological Association’s labor and labor movements section. The book, which identifies room for improvement in the U.S. retail sector, was cited for its rigorous research, concise writing and deep relevance to students, scholars and activists. By comparing working conditions in seven countries, the authors conclude that low wages, unpredictable work schedules and limited opportunities for advancement are not an inevitable characteristic of the retail sector. “Where Bad Jobs Are Better” previously won the 2018 William G. Bowen Award from Princeton University for its contribution toward understanding public policy related to industrial relations and the operation of labor markets. It was named a finalist for the 2018 George R. Terry Book Award from the Academy of Management.