All Research Projects

Experiences Organizing Informal Workers

Chris Tilly

Research Partners: UC Berkeley; University of Massachusetts; University of Campinas, Brazil; Cornell University; Peking University; Hong Kong Polytechnic University; Johns Hopkins University; Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana-Iztapalapa, Mexico; Center for Research and Higher Education in Social Anthropology (Mexico); University of Witwatersrand, South Africa; University of Toronto; York University; CUNY; Rutgers University; and UCLA Departments of Urban Planning and Sociology.

Informal work makes up the majority of employment in the Global South, and a growing share of jobs in much of the Global North, including the United States.  Though informal work by definition falls beyond the reach or grasp of labor regulations, informal workers around the globe have sought to organize for better conditions, in forms ranging from worker centers, to cooperatives, to traditional trade unions.  Experiences Organizing Informal Workers brings together scholars from a varied set of countries to draw comparative lessons about which strategies work and which do not, where, why, and how.  Research products to date include Informal Worker Organizing as a Strategy for Improving Subcontracted Work In the Textile and Apparel Industries of Brazil, South Africa, India and China.  Ongoing studies include research on informal workers’ struggles for the right to make use of public space, and global patterns in domestic worker and informal construction worker organizing.  For more information on the project, click here.


Analyze to Win: The Crucial Role of Strategic Research in Building Worker Power in the Neoliberal Economy

Chris Tilly

Research Partner: Joshua Bloom, UCLA Department of Sociology

This research investigates why and how US unions use in-depth, strategic research to build power, and why and how it works. The project is coordinated by UCLA Sociology doctoral student Joshua Bloom and IRLE Director Chris Tilly and includes a working group of several other UCLA Sociology doctoral students. A co-authored book on this research is planned.


Impact of the California Film and Tax Credit

Chris Tilly, Lauren Appelbaum

Research Partners: Headway Project

IRLE researchers examined the impact of the California Film and Television Tax Credit on the location of film and V production in the state, and the consequent economic impact on the California economy. Coordinated by IRLE Research Director Lauren Appelbaum and Chris Tilly, the project was completed with support from the Headway Project, a new nonpartisan research institute. The findings ere published in the IRLE Industry Report, “Economic and Production Impacts of the 2009 California Film and Television Tax Credit”.


Global Retail Landscapes

Chris Tilly

Research Partners: Francoise Carré, University of Massachusetts, Boston

This research project, led by IRLE director Chris Tilly, looks at variations and change in retail job quality in the US in the context of global comparisons with Mexico and several European countries, including Denmark, France, Germany and the Netherlands. The project, supported by funds from the Ford, Rockefeller, and Russell Sage Foundations, the Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, a UCLA Faculty Senate grant, and the Fulbright Scholar Program includes fieldwork in both Mexico and the United States. Recent publications from this project touch on hours of work in retail in Canada, Mexico, and the US,  comparison of US and Mexican retail jobs, and contrasting high pay in French retail jobs with low pay in US ones (which won the Best Article of 2012 award from Work, Employment, and Society), and examining worker mobility in formal and informal retail jobs in Mexico. Carré and Tilly are working on a monograph, tentatively titled Working in Retail Around the World, which is projected to be completed in 2015.


Global Strategies for Improving Low-Wage Jobs

Chris Tilly, Pamela Izvanáriu

Research Partners: Françoise Carré, University of Massachusetts Boston; Peter Evans, University of California Berkeley.

IRLE researchers are drawing lessons from case studies in the United States and around the world about what makes bad jobs bad, and strategies for improving them.  This has generated a variety of syntheses and collections.  The project yielded a 2010 special section of New Labor Forum  on “Work and Inequality in the Global Economy: China, Mexico, and the U.S.” (co-edited by Tilly and Kent Wong), and a 2011 special double issue of the Journal of Workplace Rights called “Labor in the Global South: A Search for Solutions” (co-edited by Tilly and four UCLA doctoral students). The research contributed to Carré and Tilly’s edited volume Are Bad Jobs Inevitable? (2012, co-edited with two British colleagues), published in 2012, and to edited volume How Diversity Changes the Workforce Diversity Equation (2014, co-edited by Tilly, UCLA graduate student Hina Sheikh, and two Italian co-editors).  This research stream has generated a variety of papers, such as can be found here and here.  Izvanáriu is leading new research into new forms of employment in the emerging “sharing economy,” and how they can best be regulated.


Pains or Gains-Effect of US-China Trade on US Local Labor Market

Feng Dai (IRLE Scholar)

My research is to conduct an in-depth and comprehensive survey on the traits, changes and major influencing factors of US local labor market from a historical perspective; to analyze the effects of US-China trade on the employment and wages in the US from the perspectives of import and export in services as well as manufacturing industries; and to shed light on the role of “made in China” in the unemployment and wage gap in the US and further get an integrated understanding of the US-China trade frictions.


Governments’ Role and Public Policy on Informal and Nonstandard Employment: Comparative Study Between China and the United States

Xingguo Li (IRLE Scholar)

My research project focuses on governments’ role in labor relations and comparative study of labor policy concerning informal workers between China and the United States. Government is an important actor in labor relations. Government regulation influences labor a lot. This project tries to explore the theories for government intervention in labor relations and to constitute the underlying intervention model.  Since Informal workers constitute a large proportion of work force in China as well as the US, this research focuses on governments’ intervention in informal work and explores the policy, practice, logic as well as operating mechanisms in regulation of informal labor in China and the United States.


The Radical Democracy of Migrant Struggles

Helge Schwiertz (IRLE Scholar)

In a world of nation states, migration is often described as a problem. At the same time, the perspectives of those seen as migrants or refugees are neglected in the dominant discourse. My research project, therefore, takes up these perspectives by analyzing struggles of migration against the deprivation of rights and repressive migration policies in Europe and the USA. By conducting two case studies, I would like to explore the different forms of these struggles in the context of diverging migration regimes and protest cultures. I especially seek to study the political activism of immigrant and refugee youths: the fight for “Bleiberecht” (the right to stay) for everybody in Germany and the movement of youths who identify themselves with the slogan “undocumented and unafraid” in the USA.


Precarious Forms of Labour in the Construction Sector in Central America

Minor Mora-Salas (IRLE Scholar)

My research focuses on the ongoing changes in labor relations and working conditions in the construction sector in Central America due to the proliferation of different precarious work arrangements.  Analyzing feasible iniciatives, unions are developing to cope with precarious work and the dilemma they face once job precarity is well established as a new labor relation pattern, which is also a major concern.  The research aims to have a better understanding of  the main challenges Central American construction workers and unions are facing to deal with precarious work. It also looks to develop strategic lines of actions to help workers build independent trade unions, exercise their rights and improve their working and living conditions.

Supported Employment of People with Psychiatric Disabilities for the New Economy

Laysha Ostrow (IRLE Scholar)

My research project will seek to reduce disability burden and increase the contribution of people with psychiatric disabilities to the New Economy by developing adaptations in Supported Education and Employment interventions that are consistent with the current U.S. workforce demands for a knowledge/technology-based economy. Disability and unemployment rates among people with psychiatric disabilities are much higher than many other groups. Additionally, people with disabilities are underrepresented in the STEM workforce. I am researching approaches to modify education and employment programs, while attending to limitations in the educational system that disproportionately and adversely affect people with psychiatric disabilities—such as discrimination in higher education settings and lack of workplace accommodations.


Determinants of Returning Intention of Chinese Students Who Study in the United States

Huaying Wei (IRLE Scholar)

My research will focus on Chinese students who study in the U.S.A. and conduct an in-depth and comprehensive survey on their characteristics, their returning intention, their obstacles of back to China, their employment intention and their entrepreneurial intention.  My research will analyze the dates and try to find the factors which can influence the returning intention of Chinese students.


Standards of Deviation?  Collective Representation of Atypical Workers in Europe and the United States

Rebecca Oliver (IRLE Scholar)

My research investigates collective bargaining institutions and practices for atypical workers in advanced industrial democracies.  What do unions do for the wide a growing body of atypical workers, those outside full-time indeterminate employment relationship? Most centrally, how do outsiders’ employment parameters vary across labor market regimes and what factors influence the degree of inequality between insiders and outsiders across cases?  Furthermore, how do the politics of representing outsiders inform debates about solidarity and dualism?  This project aims to elucidate which factors related to labor market structures, collective bargaining practices shape the incentives, strategies and capacities of labor unions with regard to their position towards atypical workers and the nature of their integration within union structures.  The cases of Italy, the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, Denmark and the United States allow for an exploration of a number of important dimensions of temporary workers.


Decent Work for Domestic Workers: Organization and Advocacy Potentials in Sudan

Hadelzein Elobeid (IRLE Scholar)

Through my research at IRLE, I attempt to benchmark the North American and South African experiences in domestic workers’ advocacy, organization and regulation then come up with adequate tools and/or implications for the Sudanese context.


Informal and Precarious Work under Social Dynamics of Reproduction, Reconfiguration and Contestation: The Case of Northeast Brazil

Roberto Véras de Oliveira (IRLE Scholar)

My research at IRLE aims to provide theoretical and methodological density to the studies that we have been developing at Federal University of Paraiba – Brazil on patterns of brazilian historical and current work, more specifically about the Northeast case, focusing on the social forms of reproduction and reconfiguration of informal and precarious work as well as on practices of social contestation which involve them. Such studies have been concentrated on some productive territories that have been going through intensive processes of structuration or reconfiguration, drawing special attention to the Port Industrial Complex Suape, the region formed from the Fiat industrial plant, and the Clothing Polo of Pernambuco (all cases situated in Pernambuco State). The approaches search to highlight those actors on scene (their action strategies, speeches, conflicts and negotiations who leading), which are influenced by social dynamics of reproduction, reconfiguration and contestation.