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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 Lives & Livelihoods: California’s Private Homecare Industry in Crisis

Lives & Livelihoods: California’s Private Homecare Industry in Crisis

(2022)

Presently, over 700,000 Californian workers — primarily immigrant women and women of color — provide homecare for nearly three million older adults and people with disabilities. Researchers examined homecare in California by surveying 500 workers and 103 consumers, conducting in-depth interviews with workers and consumers, and reviewing homecare agencies and residential facilities for the elderly.

Lives & Livelihoods: California’s Private Homecare Industry in Crisis finds that the California homecare industry is facing critical issues that strain workers and consumers alike, amid growing demand that further intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic. Among other findings, the report notes how the lack of infrastructure in homecare leaves both consumers and workers struggling. Over half of consumers determined employment terms on their own or turned to their friends and family for guidance. Only 22% of workers reported ever taking paid sick leave. Nearly two-thirds of homecare workers did not earn enough to cover their daily expenses and 74% reported they did not have any type of personal retirement savings.

Many families need financial support through public investment in order to pay their homecare workers a living wage. Three quarters of consumers stated they would like to pay higher wages and 85% of consumers strongly supported a universal long-term care insurance program in California.

Meaningful and timely public investment in the state’s homecare workforce and infrastructure is imperative to the sustainability of the industry over the next decade and beyond. Report authors provide the following recommendations: 1) Make it easier for consumers to find care and workers to find fair employers 2) Formalize the industry and make workers rights real through education, tools, and increased enforcement efforts 3) Address the crisis of low wages, and 4) Increase public investment in long-term care to help consumers access and afford homecare and other long-term care.

Cover page of Fast-Food Frontline: COVID-19 and Working Conditions in Los Angeles 

Fast-Food Frontline: COVID-19 and Working Conditions in Los Angeles 

(2022)

The fast-food sector is an integral part of the food sector in Los Angeles, employing 150,000 Angelenos in 2019 and comprising over a third of Los Angeles’s restaurant workers. Fast-Food Frontline: COVID-19 and Working Conditions in Los Angeles is based on 417 surveys and fifteen in-depth interviews with non-managerial fast-food workers in Los Angeles County conducted between June and October 2021. The study finds that fast-food workers in Los Angeles County are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19, in addition to facing difficult work conditions that became more acute during the pandemic. The report provides an in-depth portrait of COVID-19 safety compliance through the lens of fast-food workers themselves, the vast majority of whom are women and workers of color. Among other findings, the report finds that nearly a quarter of fast-food workers contracted COVID-19 in the last eighteen months, and less than half were notified by their employers after they had been exposed to COVID-19. Further, almost two-thirds of workers have experienced wage theft, and well over half have faced health and safety hazards on the job, amounting to injuries for 43% of workers. Researchers emphasize the urgency of implementing public policy solutions that are tailored to fast-food workers’ needs and strengthen fast-food workers’ voice in their industry. 

Cover page of Reopening During COVID-19: The Experience of Nail Salon Workers and Owners in California

Reopening During COVID-19: The Experience of Nail Salon Workers and Owners in California

(2021)

California is a major hub for the nail salon industry, with more than 100,000 licensed manicurists throughout the state. Most of the nail salons are small mom-and-pop businesses, and are primarily staffed by women and Vietnamese immigrants and refugees. Nail salons, in particular, were upended by COVID-19 and the shelter-in-place order of March 2020 that forced their closures for most of that year. Nail salons were allowed to reopen and then were forced to close again as cases surged, and finally reopened again in early 2021. This cycle of openings and closings took a tremendous emotional and financial strain on owners and workers alike. Although the industry is expected to bounce back, a new plethora of factors may affect the future of the industry. Drawing on a survey of 158 nail salon workers and 42 owners and interviews with 4 workers and 2 owners, this report provides insight into the economic and emotional impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on nail salons in California. The results shed light on the financial fragility of workers and owners alike, and the significant—yet distinct—impact on their livelihoods

Cover page of Back to the "New Normal": Workers and Learners Navigate Campus and Workpace Reopening

Back to the "New Normal": Workers and Learners Navigate Campus and Workpace Reopening

(2021)

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound and disparate impact on the lives of millions of people. In Los Angeles County, college campuses remained closed for more than a full academic year. Workers and learners juggled academic demands with the need to work for an income. As the pandemic persisted and colleges across the country continued to modify their reopening plans, the researchers of this study recognized the urgency of investigating the possible effects the crisis may have on workers’ and learners’ academic and job experiences. This study builds on existing knowledge concerning workers and learners by documenting how their education, employment, and life experiences inform their concerns and expectations for the return to campus and work. Developed by the 2021 Labor Summer Research Program student research teams, the research is based on 128 surveys and 29 interviews collected from Los Angeles public colleges and universities students in August 2021.

The study found that nearly all students agreed that flexibility in deadlines, office hours, and attendance should remain as they return to campus. They also wanted to see the practice of recorded class lectures continue. While schedule flexibility helped some students balance school and work, many were still forced to prioritize either school or work. Most students reported that their campus had a vaccine requirement and mask mandate—preventive measures that they were overall in favor of. In contrast, workers and learners reported that their workplaces had fewer safety requirements. Further, workers and learners faced barriers to financial stability and well-being. Returning to normal after a global pandemic will be a process filled with challenges, and report authors provide specific recommendations for improving conditions in the report.

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.