IRLE Research and Policy Briefs

No. 20 "Eyes on Labor: Documentaries on Work in the Neoliberal Era"

From the beginning of moving pictures in the 1890s, when women workers were captured on film leaving the filmmaker’s own factory, to the neoliberal reality of work, documentary films have revealed obscured histories and events and chronicled the struggles and changes that workers, unions, and the U.S. economy have experienced over the last hundred-plus years.  These particular films have made an important contribution to the public‘s knowledge and understanding of labor, have sought to intervene in the exploitation of workers, and provided compelling tools for new forms of organizing.  This brief offers approaches to thinking about independent documentary filmmaking in the U.S. dealing with labor and work issues.  This brief also looks at various ways documentary film has furthered, and in one recent case undermined, a deeper understanding of work and the labor movement.


No. 19 "The Spatial Politics of Street Vending in Los Angeles"

The political economy of street vending in Los Angeles is relatively understudied though recent publications by legal and urban scholars suggest a growing interest in the topic.  This lack of scholarly attention has its corollary in practice as mainstream planning has generally treated vendors as an anomaly in the urban process.  Most commonly found on sidewalks and public parks, but sometimes also on freeway off-ramps and street medians, street vendors have become an unavoidable feature of the urban landscape in contemporary Los Angeles, and other major urban centers in the U.S. such as New York and Chicago.  This brief focuses on the spatial politics of street vending in Los Angeles. The topic is especially salient now as the city expands its investments in design and planning interventions to activate public space, streets and sidewalks, for local economic development, and to encourage public transit and transportation alternatives to the automobile.


No. 18 "Career Ladders in Health Care Support Occupations"

Traditional economic development policies have often focused on export-oriented industries.  This brief analyzes the health care industry, which is local-serving and export-oriented.  With an aging population there will be increased demand for health care support occupations in long-term care.  Moreover, with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, there will be an increased demand for services and thus a demand for trained and qualified workers across the health care sector.  However, the key problem is the fragmentation between the practitioner and technical services and health care support occupations.  There is an absence of career ladders that help people in low‐wage health care support occupations move into higher wage health care support jobs and further up into practitioner and technical services positions.  This brief proposes creating career ladders for health care support occupations through a comprehensive regional strategy. 


No. 17 "Why Income Inequality Matters for Growth"

In the fall of 2013, the US economy had not fully recovered from the damaging effects of the Great Recession. These effects are no better in evidence than in the net job loss since this recession began. As of November 2013, six years after the US economy fell into recession and four years after the recovery officially began, there were 1.3 million fewer jobs in the US economy than there were prior to the recession. This at a time when the nation’s population has grown by around 7 million people. The anemic recovery has exacerbated two of the most disturbing trends of the US economy over the past forty years: stagnant earnings and rising income inequality. During the recession, the demand for jobs has outstripped the supply, contributing to stagnant wages in the US and continuing a decades‐long trend. This brief, based on Matthew P. Drennan's forthcoming book Why Income Inequality Matters, and Why Most Economists Haven't Noticed, outlines the rise in income inequality, stagnant wages, and household indebtedness as factors contributing to the Great Recession, provides empirical evidence which ties income inequality to the recession, explores the mainstream economic theory of consumption and identifies the need for a new theory of consumption, and shows how the run‐up to the Great Recession bears striking similarities to the run‐up to the Great Depression.


No. 16 "Where There Are Few Unions: Health and Safety Education for Organizing in Export Zones"

The collapse of the Rana Plaza factory building in Bangladesh on April 24, 2013, was one of the world’s deadliest industrial disasters. Killing over 1,100 garment workers, it set the stage for a renewed discussion about working conditions for the people who make the clothes Americans wear. Roughly 97% of the clothing sold in the US is made internationally, largely in export factories and Export Processing Zones (EPZs) scattered across the globe.  The dramatic expansion of these factories and EPZs in their various forms has occurred without an increased commitment on the part of manufacturers, producers, investors, or governments to workers’ health and safety on the job. This research brief reviews the growth and characteristics of EPZs and gives an indepth introduction to a new educational tool, the Workers' Guide to Health and Safety, a book being published in spring 2014 by Hesperian Health Guides in Berkeley, California. Using a popular education approach, prioritizing women workers’ concerns, and building on workers’ and organizers’ experiences from the inception of the project, the Workers’ Guide has the potential to be an important tool in ongoing organizing in export manufacturing.


No. 15 "Mobilizing informal workers for urban resilience: Linking poverty alleviation and disaster preparedness"

Two landmark global initiatives—the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to alleviate extreme poverty and the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA) to reduce the risk of disasters—expire in 2015.  The United Nations is working with its member countries and international non-governmental organizations to craft a new development agenda and disaster resilience framework to succeed these global efforts.  This report makes the case that cooperatives and associations of informal sector workers could become key players in global efforts to alleviate extreme poverty and enhance disaster resillience in urban slums and informal settlements. 


No. 14 "Business Incubators in Metropolitan Los Angeles: Job Creators or Boondoggles?"

Business incubators are a widely used economic development policy tool which aim to nurture and support the development of small, often high-technology oriented firms within local economies.  In a short period of time, business incubators have become a very popular mechanism aimed at engendering economic growth in local economies, not only in the US, but also around the world.  This report details the emergence of business incubators in the US, outlines the rational underlying the arrival of incubators as an economic development policy tool, and examines the impact of business incubators, commenting on their success as an economic development policy tool.


No. 13 "California Crisis: The Ups and Downs of Recovery -- Where Have the Unemployed Workers Gone?"

Despite nearly 4 years of recovery, both the country as a whole and California are still struggling with the aftermath of the recession – its impact on job growth and unemployment, particularly long-term unemployment. At the current rate of job growth, it will take until 2020 to reach prerecession employment levels. Yet, unemployment continues to fall. This report explores how this can be, finding the labor force to be short millions of workers from what would have been expected without a recession. This report concludes by arguing for the implementation of job creation policies rather than the current focus on austerity.


No. 12 "California Crisis: The United States and California Two and a Half Years After the End of the Great Recession"

While the Great Recession officially ended in July 2009, both the country as a whole and the State are still struggling with the aftermath of the recession, particularly its impact on job growth. The unemployment rate in the U.S. is still above 8% and expected remain this high throughout 2012 and 2013. California’s unemployment rate is still above 11%. This report provides an examination of where we are now, more than two and a half years after the end of the recession, both in the United States as a whole and in California.


No. 11 "Project Labor Agreements in Los Angeles: the Example of the Los Angeles Unified School District"

The Brief, "Project Labor Agreements in Los Angeles: The Example of the Los Angeles Unified School District," provides a discussion of project labor agreements and their role in creating high road construction jobs. The LAUSD is put forth as an example of a major employer in Los Angeles adhering to such an agreement. The Brief, which is co-published by the California Construction Academy, highlights the success of the LAUSD in meeting the goals of its agreement.


No. 10 "Reaching the Dream – The Federal DREAM Act, the California Dream Act, and Undocumented Student Activism"

This report discusses the federal Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, or DREAM Act, which would provide educational opportunities and a pathway to citizenship for undocumented young people living in the U.S. Although the federal DREAM Act, which failed passage in late 2010, was re-introduced in Congress in May 2011, it faces a long struggle. Thus, this report emphasizes the importance of state measures, highlighting the California DREAM Act, which has recently passed the California State Assembly and the Senate Education Committee. The report also points to the innovative work of undocumented students who are leading a national fight for access to higher education and citizenship


No. 9 "Tripartite Consultation in China"

This brief, co-authored by Chinese researcher Prof. Jian Qiao, Director and Associate Professor of the Department of Industrial Relations at the China Institute of Industrial Relations and IRLE’s Research Director, Lauren Appelbaum, explores the development of a tripartite consultation mechanism in Chinese labor relations. While the Chinese system does not fulfill all of the requirements of a tripartite consultation mechanism as laid out by the ILO, it does form the basis for a new type of social dialogue in China.


No. 8 "OSHA at 40: Looking Back, Looking Ahead"

This brief, co-published with the UCLA Labor Occupational Safety and Health Program, reviews the accomplishments of OSHA over its 40-year history, highlighting the agency’s important role in reducing workplace fatalities and protecting workers in a variety of industries from harm. In the current anti-government political climate, we make the case for robust government regulations backed by scientific evidence and effective enforcement


No. 7 "Los Angeles Black Worker Center - A New Sense of Power of the People: Fighting for Equity, Transparency, Accountability and Justice in the 21st Century Labor Market"

Our seventh brief in our series of Research and Policy Briefs celebrates the opening of the Labor Center’s Los Angeles Black Worker Center. The Brief documents the employment struggles of black workers, particularly given the current economic conditions in the country and the region, and demonstrates the important resource the Los Angeles Black Worker Center will be able to provide for these workers.


No. 6 "Why a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights?"

The sixth brief in our series of Research and Policy Briefs examines recent legislation in New York and California to enact a Domestic Works Bill of Rights. The brief details why these laws are needed now and what worker protections they will provide.


No. 5 "Competitive Strategies and Worker Outcomes in the US Retail Industry"

Our fifth brief in our series of Research and Policy Briefs documents the tension in the retail sector between competitive strategies based on cost cutting and those that rely on service and quality. Comparison with Europe suggests other possible institutional approaches with significant implications for the nature of retail jobs.


No. 4 "California Crisis: A Portrait of Unemployed Workers"

Our fourth brief looks at how different groups of workers – African Americans, Latinos, Young People, and Men – are feeling the brunt of the recession.


No. 3 "Unions and Education Justice: The Case of SEIU Local 1877 Janitors and the “Parent University”

The third brief in our series of Research and Policy Briefs highlights the work of the Service Employees International Union Local 1877, the ULCA Institute for Democracy, Education, and Access, and the UCLA Labor Center in understanding and addressing the educational issues facing union members’ children. SEIU Local 1877 has sponsored “Parent University” workshops which teach members about topics that will help them to support their own children’s academic success and advocate for school improvements. SEIU Local 1877 is also working with a collaborative of unions and community groups to expand upon the Parent University work and stay involved in children’s education.


No. 2 "Good, Green, Safe Jobs: The Los Angeles Green Retrofit and Workforce Program"

Our second brief discusses the new Los Angeles Ordinance creating the Green Retrofit and Workforce Program. This Ordinance is unique in that it works to improve both the environment and the economy by promoting good, green, safe jobs.


No. 1 “California Crisis: Unemployment outpaces the US”

Our first brief looks at California’s disturbingly high unemployment rate in the context of the broad U.S. economic recession.