IRLE Updates - Letter from the Director




Spring 2015


Dear friend of the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment,


Los Angeles made history on June 13 of this year when Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti signed into law a minimum wage that will rise to $15/hour by 2020, and then continue to rise based on the Consumer Price Index. This makes Los Angeles the largest city to adopt a $15 minimum wage, and also the one with the highest proportion of low-wage workers-hundreds of thousands are expected to benefit from the increase.


Here at the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment (IRLE), we are proud that our research has helped pave the way for this policy change, and to help inform a law that will be stronger and more effective. Most recently, the IRLE, including both the Academic Unit and our Labor Center unit, collaborated on a widely cited study estimating likely effects of a minimum wage increase-a study that played an important part in the City Council's and Mayor's final decision to adopt the ordinance.


But this new report builds on years of ground-breaking research on low-wage workers. The Gloves-Off Economy and Are Bad Jobs Inevitable, books I co-edited, helped raise the issue broadly, and Working for Justice: The LA Model of Organizing and Advocacy, co-edited by my predecessor as IRLE director, Ruth Milkman and Labor Center project director Victor Narro, spotlighted attempts to raise labor standards in Los Angeles (see IRLE's books page for links to these and other relevant work). IRLE's 2010 LA Wage Theft report, along with other Institute work on wage theft, pointed out that the current minimum wage is widely flouted in LA, helping make the case for a new wage enforcement agency established by the 2015 ordinance.


Numerous other Research and Policy Briefs, reports, articles and working papers-we have had a bumper crop of 39 short publications this year across our various units, along with one book-also document low-wage work, wage theft, and policy options for raising labor standards. And IRLE's Labor Occupational Safety and Health Program (LOSH) unit has worked to bring attention to low-wage workers' vulnerability to unsafe workplaces, and to policies and programs to make those workplaces safer, in recent articles and other work. IRLE has also been helping other UC campuses to build capacity for work in this area, for example by helping fund a pioneering UC Santa Barbara study on wage theft in the Santa Barbara area. The 2014-15 IRLE Colloquium Series highlighted topical issues of low-wage work in US history and around the globe (in China and South Africa).


And it's not just about research. IRLE prides itself in being a "think and do tank" that combines research with community outreach and education. Experts from IRLE's various units have conducted policy briefings and helped evaluate existing policies and programs in LA, Sacramento, Washington DC, and even abroad. IRLE experts are also in demand to comment on these issues for the media, generating a record number of media hits this academic year, and the Labor Center's award-winning Re:Work radio show brings an IRLE voice directly to the airwaves. Both the Academic Unit and the Labor Center joined a number of sister LA think tanks in organizing a series of discussions on how research could better inform policy on labor standards-starting with a discussion on minimum wage policy in fall 2014 and continuing with forums on informal work and the "sharing economy."


The various IRLE units also promoted public attention and discussion in other ways: for example, the Labor Center at their annual Banquet honored former LA County Federation of Labor head Maria Elena Durazo, a strong advocate on these issues, LOSH sponsored a LA Workers' Memorial Week of Action (commemorating workers who lost their lives due to workplace hazards), and the Academic Unit sponsored an IRLE Dialogue of academics and practitioners on the super-exploited port truck drivers of the ports of LA and Long Beach. The LOSH and Labor Center units do extensive worker education, including Train the Trainer courses to broadly diffuse knowledge about staying safe on the job. And last but not least, the Institute consistently involves students, especially those from our Labor Studies Minor in interaction, research, and documentation of low-wage workers and the organizations that are striving to make their lives better.


The world of the workplace is not all low-wage, and IRLE programming reflects that. Our conference on Labor, Entertainment, and Sports brought together researchers, union officials, practitioners, and even a few entertainment personalities to explore how discrimination, exploitation, and physical danger riddle these glitzy industries, and what to do about it. Our Human Resource Round Table unit recently wrapped up a year of programming with a Day of Learning from top thinkers in HR, cosponsored by Towers Watson, and a roundtable on leveraging HR data and protecting it from data breaches. And as I write, the Dream Summer orientation is gearing up 83 immigrant youth to serve in summer internships in immigrant-serving all over the country in an extraordinary leadership development program.


For a closer look at IRLE resources and activities, check out the IRLE website, especially our Publications, Events, and Research pages. This kind of multi-front effort to better understand low-wage work and develop tools to improve it, depends on support from varied sources. That includes donations from people like you, and we hope you will consider making a gift as we wind up another academic year. Enjoy your summer!


Best wishes,

Chris Tilly
Professor of Urban Planning and Sociology
Director, UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment