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By Sophia L. Ángeles, Graduate Student Researcher; Janna Shadduck-Hernández, Project Director, UCLA Labor Center; and Saba Waheed, Research Director, UCLA Labor Center

This past June, the UCLA Labor Center, in collaboration with the Los Angeles Community College District Dolores Huerta Labor Institute and California State University, Long Beach, published two studies examining workers and learners—college students who also work—and their unique educational and work experiences. We employed a methodology that was student-driven, engaging more than 450 undergraduate students to collect 869 surveys and conduct 75 interviews with UCLA, California Community College, and California State University workers and learners across Los Angeles County. Our hope is that these findings will provide information for colleges, employers, and policymakers to improve conditions for workers and learners.

Two-thirds of workers and learners work every single term of their undergraduate careers—the new normal for many students pursuing higher education. A majority work in low-wage jobs in the service industry. Forced to work as many hours as possible to make ends meet, two-thirds miss at least one educational opportunity because of work duties. Juggling work and school leads many to forgo internship and work-study opportunities in their fields of study that could improve opportunities in their future careers. Their situation is so stressful and overwhelming that 40% of workers and learners have considered withdrawing from school.

Graphic: Eunice Ho

Iris López, a recent UCLA Labor Studies graduate, explains the predicaments workers and learners face in their struggle to attend school and keep up with living expenses:

“My biggest concern has always been my ability to finance my education. My mother is a single parent who works in the fields. I feel guilty asking for help because I know she is struggling herself. Education should not cost us our ability to eat or cause concern over how we’re going to pay the next few units.”

 

Graphic: Eunice Ho

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated conditions for workers and learners, as half were laid off, terminated, or furloughed in April and May. As schools moved to minimize the spread of COVID-19, one quarter of workers and learners were forced to make housing changes, such as moving back in with family or vacating student housing. The housing situation has further impacted learners who must attend classes remotely while managing home responsibilities, like caring for younger siblings or family members who have fallen ill.

Graphic: Eunice Ho

What can be done?

Current trends point to increasing tuition and living expenses for college students, making it likely that more will have to work to offset those financial burdens.

Addressing the needs of workers and learners requires investing in California’s education system to achieve the following:

  • Support learners as workers by ensuring a living wage, accommodating work schedules, and supporting students’ workplace organizing efforts.
  • Strengthen career and educational pathways by making career resources more accessible, supporting paid internships that advance career goals, and increasing opportunities for networking and mentorship.
  • Support workers as learners by making college affordable or free and expanding work-study opportunities.
  • Provide holistic support by increasing access to mental health services and addressing food and housing insecurity.

 

Report: Unseen Costs: The Experiences of Workers and Learners in Los Angeles County (click to download)

Brief: A Survey of Los Angeles Workers and Learners During COVID-19 (click to download)

 

Sophia L. Ángeles is a graduate student researcher with the UCLA Labor Center’s Worker and Learner project and a UCLA PhD candidate. Her research focuses on the intersection of immigration and language to examine newcomer youths’ educational experiences and their K–16 trajectories.

Janna Shadduck-Hernández, Ed.D., is a project director at the UCLA Labor Center and teaches for UCLA Labor Studies and the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies. Her research and teaching focus on developing culturally relevant, participatory educational models with first- and second-generation university students, community members, and youth, with a focus on the organizing efforts of low-wage workers to combat labor and workplace violations.

Saba Waheed is research director at the UCLA Labor Center. She has over fifteen years of research experience developing projects with strong community participation. With her team at the Labor Center, she coordinated the first ever study of domestic work employers, launched a study of young people in the service economy, and conducted research on the taxi, garment, nail salon, construction, and restaurant industries.

By Preeti Sharma, Saba Waheed, and Vina Nguyen

With the holiday season upon us, many people will visit salons to be pampered and have their nails done. Once a place of luxury for elite women only, US nail salons were democratized in the 1980s when new immigrants and refugees opened salons to a wider clientele. However, lower prices came at a cost to nail salon workers.

In November 2018, the UCLA Labor Center in partnership with the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative released Nail Files, a report on the national nail salon sector. While a few studies on the industry have focused on customer health and environmental issues, this report takes a comprehensive look into the multibillion-dollar nail salon industry through a labor lens. We analyzed existing literature, policy reports, and government data to paint a picture of current labor conditions for salon workers.

The majority of nail salons are immigrant-owned mom-and-pop establishments. More than two-thirds of nail salons have five employees or fewer. While there are some large national and regional chains, since immigrant and refugee women transformed the industry in the 1980s, mom-and-pop salons have dominated the sector. The labor force is predominantly Asian—Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese, Nepali, and Tibetan—but also includes Latinx workers. California, Texas, Florida, New York, and Georgia are the states with the largest population of nail salon workers. 

Eight out of ten nail salon employees are low-wage workers, more than double the national rate for low-wage work of 33%. Strikingly, full-time salon workers earn less than half of what workers make in other sectors.

Nail salon workers experience challenging work conditions, including misclassification. These challenges include low wages, low flat-rate pay that amounts to less than the hourly minimum wage, other minimum-wage and overtime violations, and harassment and surveillance. In addition, 30% of nail salon workers are self-employed, a rate triple the national average, raising the concern that some manicurists are purposely misclassified as independent contractors and are therefore deprived of workplace benefits like health insurance and workers compensation, labor protections, and the right to organize.

What can be done?

The nail salon industry is projected to grow, and it will to continue to innovate to bring in a new clientele. Current trends include extending services to a male clientele using advertising and décor aimed at attracting men, expanding the sector with luxury and chain salons, and developing on-demand and app-based services.

As the sector expands, we recommend improved enforcement of workplace protections, best-practice training that encourages high-road businesses, customer education about fair pricing, and stronger government policies to protect the health and safety of nail salon workers.

Read the full Nail Files report here. Report authors: Preeti Sharma, Saba Waheed, Vina Nguyen, Lina Stepick, Reyna Orellana, Liana Katz, Sabrina Kim, and Katrina Lapira.

 

Preeti Sharma is a UCLA PhD candidate in gender studies and a graduate student researcher at the UCLA Labor Center. Her research interests include feminist theories of work, racialized and gendered labor, service economies, worker center organizing, women-of-color feminisms/queer-of-color critique, and Asian American studies. Her project “The Thread between Them” explores South Asian threading salons in the Los Angeles beauty-service industry and the neoliberal immigrant-service sector.

Saba Waheed is research director at the UCLA Labor Center. She has fifteen years of research experience developing projects with strong community participation. With her team at the Labor Center, she coordinated the first-ever study of domestic-work employers, launched a study of young people in the service economy, and conducted research on the taxi, garment, nail salon, construction, and restaurant industries.

A first-generation student, Vina Nguyen graduated from UCLA in 2018 with a BA in human biology and society. As a graduate student researcher at the UCLA Labor Center, she investigated current trends and labor issues in the US nail salon industry and the impact of erratic scheduling practices on the lives of retail workers in Los Angeles. She continues her research with the Multicenter Aids Cohort Study, a thirty-year study of HIV infection in gay and bisexual men.

By Kent Wong

Director, UCLA Labor Center

The UCLA fall quarter course Introduction to Labor and Workplace Studies: Class, Race and Social Justice gave 240 students the opportunity to participate in a collective bargaining simulation, the largest such exercise in UCLA history. This is the second year the course has been offered and taught by Labor Center Director Kent Wong and Institute for Research on Labor and Employment Director Abel Valenzuela.

Each of the students was assigned either a union or a management bargaining team, and they prepared individually and in their teams for several weeks. The student negotiations focused on three issues: wages, class size, and the expansion of charter schools within Los Angeles. All three are real-life examples drawn from the current negotiations between the United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) and the Los Angeles United School District (LAUSD). The LAUSD is the second largest school district in the country, with twenty-five thousand teachers. In a recent vote, 98 percent of teachers supported strike authorization. UTLA and LAUSD are now exploring fact-finding and mediation, but a strike is a strong possibility.

Of the twenty pairs of student teams engaged in the collective bargaining exercise, the vast majority came to a successful resolution. While a few decided to strike or lock out the teachers, most compromised on wages, class size, and the expansion of charter schools. Students were thoughtful and persuasive in their presentations, and many expressed how much they had learned about the collective bargaining process and the role of unions in the workplace.

Introduction to Labor and Workplace Studies is the core course for the Labor Studies minor. In the coming year, the UCLA Labor Studies major will be launched, the first and only major of its kind in the nine-campus UC system.

The UCLA Labor Studies program offers students an in-depth understanding of a broad array of issues related to labor and the workplace and prepares students for a variety of careers in labor relations, human resource management, law, domestic and international government, worker organizing, and economic forecasting. The program currently enrolls approximately 150 students and facilitates over 200 student internship placements annually. By critically analyzing the theory and practice of current workplace issues, students develop a deep understanding of the relationship between their education and society and how they, as college graduates, can transform the nature of work.

 

Kent Wong is the director of the UCLA Labor Center, where he teaches courses in labor studies and Asian American studies. He previously served as staff attorney for the Service Employees International Union. He was the founding president of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance and of the United Association for Labor Education and currently is vice president of the California Federation of Teachers.

By Kent Wong

Director, UCLA Labor Center

Rev. James Lawson Jr., a nationally known and celebrated leader of the civil rights movement, turned ninety years old on September 22.

The UCLA community has been very fortunate to have Rev. Lawson as part of our teaching faculty for the past sixteen years. His course, Nonviolence and Social Movements, is always popular with students. In 2016, the UCLA Labor Center published a book on his life and work, Nonviolence and Social Movements: The Teachings of Rev. James M. Lawson Jr.

Rev. Lawson was a close friend and colleague of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s, and Rev. Lawson’s work in the civil rights movement is well documented. He was a leading force in the Nashville sit-in movement, in the Memphis Sanitation Workers’ Strike, and in introducing the philosophy of nonviolence to a new generation of civil rights leaders. However, his role in advancing social justice movements in Los Angeles is less well known.

After moving from Tennessee to Los Angeles in the 1970s, Rev. Lawson served as pastor of the Holman United Methodist Church for twenty-five years. He was also a founder of Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE), which brings together clergy and lay leaders of all faiths with laborers, immigrants, and low-income families in the cause of a just economy. Through CLUE, Rev. Lawson influenced a new generation of religious leaders who actively participate in Los Angeles’s social and economic justice movements.

For many years, Rev. Lawson also led an emerging group of social justice leaders, known simply as the Holman Group, which included María Elena Durazo, Gilbert Cedillo, Antonio Villaraigosa, and Karen Bass, long before any of them were elected to public office. The Holman Group introduced these and many other social justice leaders to the philosophy of nonviolence and social change. To this day, Rev. Lawson continues to convene nonviolence workshops with labor and community practitioners. He has worked with hotel workers, janitors, and home care workers to advance nonviolent, direct-action campaigns that helped transform the Los Angeles labor movement.

This year marks not only Rev. Lawson’s ninetieth birthday but also the fiftieth anniversary of the Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike, where Dr. King was assassinated after Rev. Lawson called upon him to come support the workers.

To celebrate Rev. Lawson’s enduring contributions, the UCLA Labor Center and the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment will launch the UCLA Lawson Legacy Project this November, when Rev. Lawson receives the UCLA Medal, the university’s highest honor. The UCLA Lawson Legacy Project will establish an annual Lawson Lecture on Nonviolence beginning in 2019 and an annual scholarship to a deserving UCLA student engaged in the theory and practice of nonviolence. More details about the UCLA Legacy Project will be released at irle.ucla.edu soon.

 

Kent Wong is the director of the UCLA Labor Center, where he teaches courses in labor studies and Asian American studies.  He previously served as staff attorney for the Service Employees International Union. He was the founding president of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, the founding president of the United Association for Labor Education, and currently is vice president of the California Federation of Teachers.

By Kent Wong

Director, UCLA Labor Center

The UCLA Labor Center’s Dream Resource Center (DRC), in partnership with Netflix employees and DREAMer’s Roadmap (a program to support undocumented student access to higher education), sponsored a hackathon at the Netflix campus in Silicon Valley, August 10–12, 2018. Through a generous gift from Netflix employees, 40 immigrant youth from across the country spent three days developing innovative online resources and apps to support the rights and needs of immigrants and to address the increasingly hostile policies threatening immigrant communities. The youth were joined by about 20 Netflix and other tech company employees, who served as mentors and coaches throughout the three days.

Silicon Valley is an internationally known center for technology and innovation and serves as a major hub of economic growth and development. What is less known, however, is that tech is an industry that is reliant on immigrant labor. Many of the most successful entrepreneurs and tech engineers are immigrants. In addition, immigrant workers comprise the main workforce who clean the offices, maintain the grounds, provide security, prepare the food, take care of tech employees’ children and elderly relatives, and staff the other service sector jobs that support the tech companies.

Many Silicon Valley companies have invested resources to advocate for immigrant rights and to oppose the anti-immigrant policies of the Trump administration. Silicon Valley companies are also sensitive to their lack of Latino and African American employees, and many are seeking to expand recruitment efforts to underrepresented communities. The August hackathon was a great step forward in advancing a partnership between the tech world and immigrant communities.

This was the second hackathon sponsored by the UCLA DRC. In September 2017, a hackathon was held at CodeSmith in Venice, California, in partnership with UndocuMedia (an immigrant youth media company), FWD.us (an immigrant rights organization founded within the tech community) and others.

In 2016, the DRC also published a breakthrough research report, Immigrant Youth in the Silicon Valley: Together We Rise, which explores the obstacles young immigrants face when trying to access fair wages, housing and higher education in the area.

For the past three years, the DRC has sponsored the Dream Summer program in the Silicon Valley, placing immigrant youth in internships with education, immigrant rights, and social justice organizations in the area. Dream Summer fellows organized a successful conference at San Jose City College in August 2016 to promote educational access for immigrant students. In August 2017, Dream Summer fellows held a conference at the Univision headquarters in San Jose to address employment opportunities for immigrant youth.

The employee-sponsored Netflix hackathon was an inspiring and exciting event. On September 10, Netflix will host a reception to report on the hackathon to their employees, share a video with highlights and discuss next steps. Plans are already underway to hold another hackathon for immigrant youth in 2019.

 

Kent Wong is the director of the UCLA Labor Center, where he teaches courses in labor studies and Asian American studies. He previously served as staff attorney for the Service Employees International Union. He was the founding president of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance and of the United Association for Labor Education and currently is vice president of the California Federation of Teachers.

By George Chacon

Dream Resource Center Project Manager, UCLA Labor Center

When people are allowed to tell their own stories, they can provide insight into and connection with groups of people we may not ordinarily interact with. But when other people tell those stories, they can be used to paint a negative and unfair picture. No one has done this more, and with more disregard for facts and hatred toward the immigrant community, than Donald Trump. Not a week goes by where he does not say something inflammatory about immigrants, and his supporters echo those stories. Thankfully, working for the UCLA Labor Center’s Dream Resource Center (DRC) has provided me with opportunities to hear positive stories and experiences from my coworkers and community partners. Some of these stories are featured in the DRC’s Undocumented Stories exhibit, hosted by the Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA) in Long Beach.

MOLAA will be showcasing Undocumented Stories, a multimedia exhibit that lifts up the personal stories and experiences of immigrant youth, from August 4 to September 9. Undocumented Stories was curated by UCLA students, staff from the UCLA Labor Center and the DRC, and SolArt Media & Design. It includes personal stories, video, and photographs of unaccompanied minors and undocumented youth who built a movement to change US policies on access to higher education, immigration, and deportation. The exhibit aims to humanize the undocumented immigrant experience, empower the immigrant community, and incite critical conversations about the future of US immigration law and policy. Undocumented Stories has traveled to various locations around the country, including Washington, DC, and Boston through a partnership with the National Education Association.

The exhibit features the stories of people like Set Rongkilyo, who does communications for the ICE Out of LA coalition. Set and his family migrated to the United States with the hope of naturalizing their status through an employer. Unfortunately, Set’s family could not fulfill the extensive requirements, became undocumented, and were eventually separated. Set’s father had to return to the Philippines to care for his sick mother and will have great difficulty ever returning to the United States because of his undocumented status.

Then there’s Diego Sepulveda, currently the director of the DRC. I met Diego in 2009 when I was an undergraduate student at UCLA, and I remember how fearless and persistent he was as an undocumented student. The exhibit chronicles his experience as a transfer student attending UCLA and his advocacy efforts in LGBTQ and environmental issues.

My experience working at the DRC and with MOLAA has strengthened my commitment to the movement to ensure that all immigrants are treated with respect and humanity. By uplifting the stories and leadership of immigrants in these unfortunate times, the Undocumented Stories exhibit functions as a necessary and vital counter to the falsehoods coming out of the White House.

 

George Chacon is the Immigrant Justice Project Manager at the Dream Resource Center, where he guides immigrant leaders in developing rapid response networks for immigrant communities as they face increased threats of detention and deportation. He graduated from UCLA in 2010 with a BA in international development studies and a minor in education studies. He is an LA native and has worked on issues such as workforce development, health and wellness, and college readiness.

Downtown Los Angeles protest
Photo by: Gara McCarthy

By Jan Breidenbach

Senior Fellow, UCLA Department of Urban Planning

This was the question addressed by the 2018 Community Scholars project. A joint initiative of UCLA’s Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, Labor Center, and the Department of Urban Planning, Community Scholars is a two-quarter class that convenes graduate students with community, labor, and city leaders to conduct applied research on pressing local issues.

In 2017, the California legislature passed a historic housing package consisting of fifteen bills that provided new funding for affordable housing and facilitated the siting and building of new housing throughout the state.

 

These bills include a variety of provisions. One of the laws establishes a statewide source of funding for affordable housing by adding a fifty-dollar document recording fee when certain real estate transactions are recorded. Another put a $4 billion bond on the upcoming November ballot with proceeds going to a number of affordable housing programs. A third bill permits local governments to pass housing ordinances that require market-rate builders to include affordable housing. Yet another helps protect tenants presently living in subsidized housing from being evicted when their buildings are sold.

Most of the bills, however, make it easier for builders to build. They make changes to California’s Housing Element laws (the State requirement that all cities and counties identify where housing can be built based on a projection of housing need provided by the State) and an older law, the Housing Accountability Act (HAA). The HAA has been on the books for over thirty years but has been almost completely ignored until now.

The point of all this activity was to spur production of desperately needed housing in California. Advocates around the state fought for these bills and celebrated a great victory when they passed. But after the immediate celebrations, advocates had to sit down and figure out how all this was actually going to play out. What did we really do?

In January, thirteen planning scholars and thirteen community scholars set out to answer this question. At the request of Public Counsel (the nation’s largest pro bono law organization dedicated to social justice for low-income neighborhoods), this year’s Community Scholars separated out the bills and held them up to the light of day-to-day struggles around affordable housing.

The scholars scoured the language for consistency (and inconsistency), applied the new policies to the existing practices of a number of cities, and mapped out what might really happen on the ground. The class created scenarios to demonstrate where the new policies would work best and where they may make little difference. The students interviewed city planners, reviewed local plans, and talked with builders and activists.

So, what did they find?

The new legislation has the potential of making great change, but there are limits on the ground that give us pause. Many cities fight more housing. Homeowners often don’t want more density and sometimes don’t want the people who will live in denser housing. Local voters want the homeless to be housed but often not in their neighborhoods. It is important that we build more densely, but policies that allow for building near transit can lead to gentrification and displacement; without tools to address this concern, tenants may be at risk of eviction. And, although it was proposed, repealing the California law that limits rent control, the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, did not pass.

The Community Scholars ultimately agreed that while the housing package was unprecedented, it is only a first step in our long struggle to make sure all Californians have a place to call home.

Read the 2018 Community Scholars Report: Do Bills Build Homes? An Assessment of California’s 2017 Housing Package on Addressing the Housing Crisis in Los Angeles County 

 

Jan Breidenbach teaches housing and community development at Occidental College. Before teaching, she was a long-time advocate, leading the So CA Association of Non-Profit Housing for 15 years. She was a union organizer for the Service Employees International Union and the founder of an economic development organization that worked with poor women excluded from the traditional labor force. She is a Senior Fellow of the UCLA Department of Urban Planning, on the editorial board of the National Housing Institute and a board member with the Economic Roundtable.

Released by the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment and the UCLA Labor Center

By Abel Valenzuela Jr.

Professor and Director of the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment

Last week, UCLA Labor Center researchers Saba Waheed, Lucero Herrera, Ana Luz Gonzalez-Vasquez, Janna Shadduck-Hernández, Tia Koonse and David Leynov published our institute’s latest study, More Than a Gig, on the nascent but rapidly growing transportation networking companies such as Uber and Lyft. After reading the report and participating in its release, I am struck by its findings and reminded of research that I undertook almost two decades ago on day labor—at the time, a growing and ubiquitous labor market that we knew little about other than through anecdotes, newspaper accounts or personal experience. My research contributed to discussions and debates about nonstandard and informal labor markets and how worker centers might serve as important intermediaries to improve conditions for day laborers. Adding empiricism, rigorous research, and analysis to debates on day labor and precarious labor markets moved the policy discussion forward in more inclusive and thoughtful ways.

Similarly, the ride-sharing industry is well known among Angelenos as we navigate our city’s sprawl; balance the confluence of space, time and traffic; and reduce our stress by letting someone else do the driving. But up until yesterday, we knew little about the labor market conditions of the ride-sharing market. It is my hope that these findings will begin a policy dialogue about how to improve conditions for these workers.

The findings of More Than a Gig  are significant and highlight three important patterns:

First, ride-hailing is neither supplemental nor temporary, and most drivers report that it is their full-time occupation. Full-time drivers tend to be older, come from an immigrant background, use the job to support their families and principally participate in this market for its flexibility.

Second, the study finds that costs of working as an Uber or Lyft driver decrease what are already mediocre earnings as drivers pay for car maintenance; car purchases or leases; cell phone mounts; floor mats; seat covers; and even passenger amenities like bottled water, mints or cell phone chargers to improve reviews and maintain employment security.

Finally, the study highlights how drivers are structurally and legally limited by the fact that they are independent contractors. Their nonemployee status releases ride-sharing companies from any responsibility for the driver’s wages, work conditions, benefits or workplace protections and safety.

Opportunities to organize workers in this growing industry will be difficult for numerous reasons, not least of which is drivers’ invisibility as they navigate the streets of Los Angeles for work. The lack of a brick and motor workplace, worker center or commissary makes the collective organizing of workers in this market even more difficult. The demand side of this industry is mostly unregulated, though municipalities, including many in Europe, are moving to regulate the industry with surprisingly positive impacts.

Other possible policy prescriptions—including encouraging fair, accessible, and equitable uses of technology work platforms and organizing with existing taxi collectives and emerging ride-sharing worker centers—could be promising first steps in increasing ride-sharing and taxi driver solidarity and in improving the ride-hailing industry.

Download the full report HERE.

Abel Valenzuela Jr. is Professor of Urban Planning and Chicana/o Studies, Director of UCLA’s Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, and Special Advisor to the Chancellor on Immigration Policy. Professor Valenzuela is one of the leading national experts on day labor and has published numerous articles and technical reports on the subject. His research interests include precarious labor markets, worker centers, immigrant workers, and Los Angeles. His academic base is urban sociology, planning, and labor studies.