Unsafe and Unfair: Labor Conditions in the Warehouse Industry

A Policy Matters report from UC Riverside points to pressures in a major employment sector in the Inland region

Warehouse loading bays

Public policy changes and community support are needed to ensure workplace safety and fairness for warehouse workers, according to a UC Riverside report.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – Labor subcontracting and lack of employer accountability have fostered unsafe and unfair working conditions in the Inland warehouse industry, according to a new study released by the University of California, Riverside.

The report, written by a research team led by Associate Professor of Sociology Ellen Reese, appears in Policy Matters, a quarterly journal published by UC Riverside.

Ellen Reese

Ellen Reese

In 2010, 114,000 people were hired in warehouses in the Inland Empire, according to the California Employment Development Department. This workforce is mostly Latino, of which about half are immigrants. Temporary workers who lack benefits and are paid low wages do much of the work.

The study combines information from multiple sources and methods, including secondary literature, survey data, and ethnographic field research, including 17 semi-structured interviews with warehouse workers, warehouse managers, and representatives of temporary employment services.

Among the findings:

  • About 40 percent of respondents reported that pressure from management led to injury or illness. Work schedules contribute to sleep deprivation among warehouse workers, which increases the risks of workplace accidents and injuries.
  • Just 22 percent of these workers felt that they had received adequate training before starting the job. Some reported being left to their own devices, teaching themselves to do the job as they went along. Even without proper training, 90 percent of these workers said that they received pressure from supervisors to work faster.
  • Inadequate state and federal funding for Occupational Health and Safety Administration and other Department of Labor offices undermines efforts to protect worker safety, a problem that has only worsened in the recent wave of state and federal cutbacks.

“Our research strongly suggests that public policy changes and community support are needed to ensure workplace safety and fairness for warehouse workers,” Reese said. “Federal and state officials need to closely monitor working conditions in the warehouse industry and enforce protective labor laws, and retail companies must be held accountable for unfair and unsafe working conditions.”

She added that community mobilization and support for Warehouse Workers United’s campaign for better working conditions in the form of petitions, protests and boycotts can make a big difference in whether large retail stores push their contractors to improve working conditions.

Policy Matters is part of a larger initiative by UCR on public policy that includes curriculum development, seminar series, and future plans to create a school of public policy.

The research team included graduate students Elizabeth Bingle of the University of Cincinnati, and Kevin Curwin, Edwin Elias, Tony Roberts and Jason Struna of UC Riverside.

For more information, contact Ellen Reese at (213) 793-0326 or by email at ellen.reese@ucr.edu.

 

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Ellen Reese
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E-mail: ellen.reese@ucr.edu

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