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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment supports faculty and graduate student research on employment and labor topics in a variety of academic disciplines. The Institute also sponsors colloquia, conferences and other public programming, and is home to the undergraduate minor in Labor and Workplace Studies at UCLA. The Institute also includes three sub-units: the UCLA Labor Center, the Labor Occupational Safety and Health Program, and the Human Resources Round Table.

Cover page of The Fast-Food Industry and COVID-19 in Los Angeles 

The Fast-Food Industry and COVID-19 in Los Angeles 

(2021)

The Fast-Food Industry and COVID-19 in Los Angeles finds that working conditions in the Los Angeles fast-food industry lead to an increased risk of COVID-19 transmission in communities of color, and $1.2 billion in public costs as a result of low wages that have plagued the industry for years. Fast-food is an integral part of the food sector in Los Angeles, comprising nearly 150,000 restaurant workers, the vast majority of whom are women and workers of color.

Among other findings, the report notes:

Black, Latinx, and Asian populations have disproportionately higher rates of infection, hospitalization, and death compared to their White counterparts. The interplay between essential workers, household size, race, and income is nowhere more obvious than in Los Angeles, where nine in ten fast-food workers are workers of color, and nearly three-quarters are Latinx.

Workplace spread impacts households and communities. Over two-thirds of fast-food workers live in households with four or more people, which makes social distancing difficult or impossible.

Because of low wages, more than two-thirds of the families of fast-food workers in LA County are enrolled in a safety net program at a cost of $1.2 billion to the public.

This report is a collaboration between the UCLA Labor Center, UC Berkeley Labor Center, UCLA Labor Occupational Health and Safety Program, and UC Berkeley Labor Occupational Health Program. 

Cover page of Profile of Domestic Workers in California

Profile of Domestic Workers in California

(2020)

Domestic work is an indispensable part of American life. Domestic workers provide childcare, homecare, and housecleaning services to support families, individuals, older adults, and people with illnesses or disabilities. Essential to the functioning of our economy and a more caring and sustainable future, domestic workers ensure our children, aging grandparents, and loved ones who are managing chronic illnesses or disabilities receive the assistance they need to live healthy and dignified lives. However, this work remains largely excluded from basic employment protections and benefits that can ensure the health and safety of domestic workers.

This report is part of a series of UCLA Labor Center studies that capture the experience of workers and employers in the domestic work sector. This industry lacks the structure common to others, and the resulting absence of regular and predictable practices leads to wide variations in work and pay arrangements. Studies have shown that domestic workers also experience wage theft, health and safety violations, and harassment. A recent survey of domestic workers found workplace risks similar to those of nurses in hospital or cleaners in commercial buildings. Unlike other low-wage industries, domestic work is hidden behind closed doors and lacks government oversight or support. In addition, household employers often do not consider themselves as such or see their homes as workplaces.

Based on our analysis of government data from the most recent 5-year sample (2014– 2018) of the American Community Survey (ACS), this research brief provides a profile of domestic workers in California—who they are, where they live and work, and the economic vulnerabilities they face due to their employment status, low wages, and lack of benefits.

Cover page of Worker Ownership, COVID-19, and the Future of the Gig Economy

Worker Ownership, COVID-19, and the Future of the Gig Economy

(2020)

Based on a summer 2020 survey with 302 workers for app-based gig companies in California, this report presents the impact of COVID-19 on those workers and their reactions to new models of worker ownership in the gig economy. We also draw from in-depth interviews with 15 workers and 9 experts on labor issues and worker-owned and labor contracting cooperative models, along with an extensive literature review.

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the precarity of gig work, exacerbating its well-documented exploitative conditions, including wage theft and routine violations of laws designed to protect workers’ health and safety. These conditions are enabled in app-based gig work by the lack of control, transparency, and stability experienced by this workforce. Misclassified gig workers—without access to paid sick leave, Unemployment Insurance, workers’ compensation, company-provided personal protective equipment (PPE), or income predictability—face a heightened risk of COVID-19 infection, food insecurity, and homelessness.

The report is presented in three parts: (1) findings from survey responses regarding working conditions during COVID-19, (2) feedback from gig workers on a cooperative contracting model for the sector, and (3) case studies of cooperative and contracting models from other sectors.

Cover page of Union Values and LGBTQ+ Worker Experiences: A Survey of UFCW Workers in the United States and Canada

Union Values and LGBTQ+ Worker Experiences: A Survey of UFCW Workers in the United States and Canada

(2020)

LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, et al.) people are an increasingly organized portion of the United States and Canadian workforce. In 2013, members of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) formed OUTreach, a constituency group that works to secure rights and protections for LGBTQ+ workers against discrimination and mistreatment on the job. Their advocacy efforts have centered on ensuring access to workplace benefits through collective bargaining agreements, providing educational programming, and collaborating on political advocacy campaigns.

After several decades of patchwork civil rights legislation, LGBTQ+ workers are now legally protected from discrimination in employment under national law in both the United States and Canada. Yet awareness and implementation of nondiscrimination protections are uneven, and LGBTQ+ workers are still susceptible to differential treatment. There has been limited research about working conditions for LGBTQ+ people in terms of health and safety, unequal treatment on the job, and access to benefits. Likewise, there is very limited information about the leadership of LGBTQ+ workers in contemporary union organizing or the scope and effects of union support for LGBTQ+ workers’ rights.

This report explores LGBTQ+ workers’ contributions to union organizing and how they and their allies have benefited from union advocacy. Three significant findings and recommendations are outlined below. We used a participatory and research justice approach, working closely with UFCW OUTreach to collect and analyze the data. Using mixed-sampling methodology, we surveyed 1,004 union members and conducted 15 interviews with LGBTQ+ workers in diverse industries and regions across the United States and Canada. In addition, we conducted a review of relevant policy and academic literature.

Cover page of Workers and Learners during a Global Pandemic and Social Uprising

Workers and Learners during a Global Pandemic and Social Uprising

(2020)

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, colleges have rapidly transitioned from in-person classes to remote learning, dramatically changing the way students receive instruction. At the same time, students who work are also facing unemployment or reduced hours. Most of those who were not laid off are working in frontline positions in essential services. Compounding those challenges are government policies that prohibit many college students and certain low-wage workers from accessing economic relief benefits. Based on 138 surveys and 25 interviews collected from Los Angeles public colleges and universities, this study builds on existing knowledge concerning the experiences of workers and learners by documenting how their academic, employment, and life experiences have changed since the onset of the global health crisis.

Cover page of A Survey of Workers and Learners in Los Angeles County During COVID-19

A Survey of Workers and Learners in Los Angeles County During COVID-19

(2020)

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, colleges have rapidly transitioned from in-person classes to remote learning, dramatically changing the way students receive instruction. At the same time, students who work are also facing unemployment or reduced hours. Most of those who were not laid off are working in frontline positions in essential services. Compounding those challenges are government policies that prohibit many college students and certain lowwage workers from accessing economic relief benefits.

This study supplements the report Unseen Costs: The Experiences of Workers and Learners in Los Angeles County with new data on the effects of the pandemic on this population. Based on 236 surveys collected from Los Angeles public colleges and universities in April and May 2020, this study builds on existing knowledge concerning the experiences of workers and learners by documenting how their academic, employment, and life experiences have changed since the onset of the global health crisis.

Cover page of A Survey of Nail Salon Workers and Owners in California During Covid-19

A Survey of Nail Salon Workers and Owners in California During Covid-19

(2020)

As a leading hub for the nail salon industry, California comprises more than 100,000 licensed manicurists who work in mom-and-pop salons throughout the state. With the sudden rise of the COVID-19 pandemic, nail salons were upended as they were forced to shut down to comply with shelter-in-place orders. A Survey of Nail Salon Workers and Owners in California During COVID-19 analyzes and summarizes the socio-economic impacts that COVID-19 had on the nail salon industry through both owner and worker perspectives. Based on 636 worker and 90 owner online surveys, this report provides a brief snapshot of the experiences, needs, and challenges facing workers and owners during the COVID-19 shutdown and as they anticipate reopening.

Cover page of Reimagined Recovery: Black Workers, the Public Sector, and Covid-19

Reimagined Recovery: Black Workers, the Public Sector, and Covid-19

(2020)

This report highlights the validity of public sector work as a solution in the response and recovery to the Covid-19 pandemic on Black people across communities in Los Angeles County. Covid-19 disproportionately impacts Black workers and communities. History shows that even once a disaster is over, Black workers and Black people across communities continue to disproportionately feel its impact far longer than other communities. Through the most recent government data and relevant literature, this report demonstrates why and how public sector jobs should be a tool used to address the Black jobs crisis and the recovery from Covid-19, particularly in Los Angeles County.

Cover page of Unseen Costs: The Experiences of Workersand Learners in Los Angeles County

Unseen Costs: The Experiences of Workersand Learners in Los Angeles County

(2020)

Today, over half of college students work. Their experiences as workers and learners are impacted by increasing college costs and often exorbitant living expenses, and compounded by low wages. Meanwhile, state funding for public institutions has decreased dramatically: in 2017, it was nearly $9 billion less than in 2008. Tuition and fees have increased across every institution of public higher education in California. Financial aid rarely covers the educational expenses of workers and learners, and students generally face an acute funding gap. Workers and learners are concentrated in the low-wage service economy, and nine out of 10 worked more than 15 hours a week. Many simply lack the resources to pay for their tuition and fees, books, other necessary supplies, housing, and utilities.

Yet this emerging reality has not produced a systematic infrastructure that might provide support and necessary accommodations for workers and learners. In fact, their schoolwork and engagement with academic opportunities suffers for their work commitments, and they are often penalized at work for attempting to meet their scholarly obligations and schedules.

This report explores how workers and learners in Los Angeles’ public colleges and universities experience the competing demands of school and the workplace as they prepare for careers. We used a participatory and research justice approach, and worked with students, workers, and community partners to collect and analyze the data.

Work, Pay, or Go to Jail: Court-Ordered Community Service in Los Angeles

(2019)

Each year in Los Angeles County, about 100,000 people are forced to work for free. We refer here not to wage theft or labor trafficking but to a formal government practice that uses the power of the criminal legal system to require people to work without pay. This practice is called “community service,” a euphemism for a fundamentally coercive system situated at the intersection of mass incarceration and economic inequality, with the most profound effects on communities of color. This report provides the first in-depth, empirical study of a large-scale system of court-ordered community service in the contemporary United States.

Court-ordered community service is typically understood as a progressive alternative to incarceration for people who would otherwise face jail time and/or court debt they cannot afford to pay. However, it also functions as a distinct system of labor that operates outside the rules and beneath the standards designed to protect workers from mistreatment and exploitation.