IRLE Updates - Letter from the Director
Dear friend of the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment,
As our 45 proud Labor and Workplace Studies Minor graduates (a record number!) and many thousands of other UCLA students prepare for graduation, the jacarandas come into full bloom...and attention on campus turns obsessively to rules. Graduation requirements, rules for completing a major or minor, even the mandatory margin size on theses, suddenly dominate discussions. In our society full of rules that we sometimes respect and sometimes evade, this seems like a good a moment to reflect on how the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment relates to rules in the world of work.
Most obviously, perhaps, IRLE research helps make and apply rules and evaluate how well they are working. The Labor Center unit is currently working with attorneys and worker advocates to help design a new Los Angeles Wage Theft Ordinance that would strengthen protections of workers who do not get paid what they're owed. The Labor Center is also working with the California Labor Commissioner to eliminate sweatshop conditions in the garment industry. The Labor Occupational Safety and Health Program (LOSH) unit continues to collaborate with labor and community partners to develop leadership skills and create a voice for workers to inform the enforcement of worker health and safety standards in hazardous jobs. LOSH programs have advanced worker health standards on heat and ergonomics through a regional education/research program to prevent heat fatalities and a labor-management office ergonomics initiative. Both are highlighted in peer reviewed journal articles. Academic Unit faculty and graduate students are wrapping up a study, with researchers in Brazil, China, India, and South Africa, on what worker organizations can contribute to monitoring and enforcing labor standards in subcontracted and home-based work in the garment and textile sectors in those four countries.
The Institute also facilitates broader researcher and practitioner discussion of rules-and ways to improve them. An April conference on Low-Wage Workers and Organizing, organized by the IRLE Labor Center and Academic Unit along with others, brought together scholars from around the country to examine how new approaches to organizing have set new rules of the road for low-end employment in the US. In a similar vein, in May a gathering of street vendor and day labor organizers from Mexico and the US, convened by the Academic Unit, exchanged experiences of struggle over the use of public space-the workplace for street vendors, the hiring site for day laborers. Also in May, the IRLE co-presented with Italy's ADAPT (Association for International and Comparative Studies in Labor Law and Industrial Relations) a conference on "How Global Migration Changes the Workforce Diversity Equation," assembling scholars from 14 countries (including Brazil, Luxembourg, and Nigeria) to explore the implications of demographic change in the context of tangled national thickets of policies on migration, diversity, and discrimination. Rounding out May events, the Human Resource Round Table's (HARRT) membership of HR executives heard Rebecca Ray, co-author of the Conference Board's CEO Challenge 2013, explain how US executives are viewing challenges ranging from new government regulations to the many rules shaping talent availability. And this summer will usher in a Labor Center-run Freedom School for immigrant high school youth (as part of the Children's Defense Fund's nationwide Freedom Schools program). The Freedom School will help young people navigate the changing rules of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, eligibility for in-state tuition in public universities, and evolving immigration reform proposals, all while learning to advocate for themselves.
In addition to musing about IRLE's relation with the myriad rules that shape the workplace, I want to mention some landmark events for IRLE staff. Perhaps most notably, HARRT is going through a momentous leadership transition. Executive Director Linda Newton, who has ably helmed the Round Table for more than a decade, is retiring, and Ellen Sheehan, whose impressive résumé includes directing Human Resources at Princess Cruise Lines, is taking her place. At the same time, Faculty Co-Directors David Lewin and Daniel J.B. Mitchell are handing over the reins to Corinne Bendersky of the UCLA Anderson School. I want to thank Linda, David, and Dan for their years of unstinting service, and to warmly welcome Ellen and Corinne. In a smaller but very pleasant development, Work, Employment, and Society, the British Sociological Association's flagship labor journal, has awarded Best Article to me and four French and US co-authors for our article on how France-US institutional differences help explain big differences in pay and productivity between grocery stores in the two countries. (Again, rules-the complex of French and US national-level laws-are key to the research.)
When it comes to making, enforcing, evaluating, researching, and teaching about the rules that govern the workplace in Los Angeles, California, the US, and around the world, I am proud that the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment is helping shape and inform the critical discussions. You may have heard news about the dramatic recovery of the California state budget, but I'm sorry to say that the fiscal rebound has not yet resulted in reversal of any of the harsh cuts to IRLE's budget that took place over the last several years. In an environment of rising costs, this means we depend increasingly on outside financial support. So I hope that when you next visit the Institute's website, you will find your way to the Donate button. But don't stop there: please explore the Events page to learn about our recent conferences, the Publications page to find links to our award-winning articles and dozens of other recent publications, and check out the latest information on all your programs. And enjoy the summer!
Director, UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment