Policy Matters is a quarterly series of reports that provide timely research and guidance on issues that are of concern to policymakers at the local, state, and national levels.

Volume 5, Issue 2 by Jason Struna, Kevin Curwin, Edwin Elias, Ellen Reese, Tony Roberts, and Elizabeth Bingle is entitled: Unsafe and Unfair: Labor Conditions in the Warehouse Industry


Executive Summary

The warehouse industry is a major employer in the Inland Empire, hiring about 114,000 ware- house workers in Riverside and San Bernardino counties in 2010 (California Employment Develop- ment Department 2011). This workforce is mostly Latino, of which about half are immigrants. While the industry often claims  that it provides good jobs in the region, temporary workers who lack benefits and are paid low wages do most of the work. Many warehouse workers also face unsafe and unhealthy employment conditions. Here, we examine and summarize research on the region’s warehouse industry and efforts of Warehouse Workers United (WWU) to organize warehouse workers and improve their working conditions since 2008 through direct actions and legal channels.

Our study combines information from multiple sources and methods, including secondary litera- ture, ethnographic field research, and survey data. We discuss the region’s goods movement industry, drawing from relevant secondary literature, field research, and information from 17 semi-structured in- terviews with warehouse workers, warehouse managers, and representatives of temporary employment services. We also provide a broad overview of WWU’s organizing campaign based on field research by three authors carried out between 2008 and 2012.

We also examine health and safety issues in the industry. Here, we compare findings from a 2011 survey of employers collected by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) with results from a survey
of warehouse workers conducted in 2011 by members of WWU and Deogracia Cornelio of the Labor and Occupational Health and Safety program at UCLA (BLS 2011a, b; WWU and Cornelio 2011; WWU 2011). We also review the recent legal victories of WWU members who experienced violations in government workplace regulations regarding payment and health and safety conditions.

Our research strongly suggests that public policy changes and community support are needed to ensure workplace safety and fairness for warehouse workers. Federal and state officials need to closely monitor working conditions in the warehouse industry and to enforce protective labor laws. At the same time, community mobilization and support in the form of petitions, protests, and boycotts can make a big difference in whether large retail stores will push their contractors to improve working conditions.

Elizabeth Bingle is currently a graduate student of Sociology at the University of Cincinnati. Kevin Curwin, Edwin Elias, Tony Roberts, and Jason Struna are graduate students of sociology at the University of California, Riverside. Ellen Reese is Associate Professor of Sociology at UC Riverside.

For more information, contact Ellen Reese at (951) 827-2930 or by email: ellen.reese@ucr.edu.