UCR: Study calls warehouse jobs low-paying

By Imran Ghori
Riverside Press-Enterprise

(Link to article.)

While Inland cities are increasingly looking to the logistics industry for economic growth, two recent studies by University of California, Riverside researchers say the mainly blue-collar employees who work at warehouses are paid poorly and lack proper access to health care.

But the study was heavily criticized by at least one prominent Inland economist.

The researchers, who surveyed 350 current and former warehouse workers in 2012 and 2013 about their work conditions, found that many of the jobs are filled through temporary staffing agencies, allowing employers not to provide health care and pay them less than the living wage. They recommended that Ontario, which has one of the largest concentrations of warehouses, increase its minimum wage as the city of Los Angeles did recently.

The two policy briefs compared their findings to other studies and statistics from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics and found on average non-supervisory blue collar warehouse workers make $10.05 an hour. The estimated living wage – the amount needed to provide for basic necessities such as food and shelter — for a single person in the Inland area is $11.59 an hour.

Those survey results “suggest that while warehouses do provide jobs for the region’s workforce, these jobs are not necessarily good jobs,” the researchers stated.

Ellen Reese, a professor of sociology and chair of UC Riverside’s Labor Studies program who co-authored the studies, said cities can do more to improve wages for warehouse workers through agreements that require developers to provide permanent jobs and encouraging union contracts.

“If we’re going to have more and warehouses in our region, I think we need to start making demands on those employers to provide decent wages to its workers — all of its workers,” she said.

Inland economist John Husing called the findings “utter nonsense” and “totally biased.”

“There was a specific intent to prove that people were poorly paid,” he said. “This was not going to be a fair and balanced study.”

Among their findings in the study were that 63 percent of the warehouse workers they surveyed were temporary employees hired by a third-party agency; 85 percent were Latino; 28 percent were immigrants; and 65 percent had a high school or lower level of education.

For the wage study, researchers surveyed 136 workers at warehouses in Rancho Cucamonga, Ontario and Fontana and attempted to get a representative sample of different size warehouses and different ownership types, Reese said.

The health care survey interviewed a separate group of 224 current and former warehouse workers and found that only 35 percent had health care and only 15 percent through their employer.

Access to health care is especially important due to the high workplace injury statistics for warehouse workers, Reese said. Her study cites federal Bureau of Labor numbers that found that warehouse jobs had an injury and fatality rate three times the average of all workers.

The team’s findings counter those advanced by developers and cities that have approved millions of square feet of warehouse space from Ontario to Redlands in the past couple of years. Industry supporters say warehouse projects put thousands of people to work and provide a pathway to a middle-class living.

Husing, who has worked as a consultant on warehouse projects for cities and other agencies, said the median wage for the logistics industry based on state employment data he’s collected is $44,000 a year. His number includes all the different sectors that are part of the logistics industry — including trucking and wholesale manufacturing — while he said the UC Riverside study only looks at the bottom of the system.

The authors of the UC Riverside study say they focused specifically on non-supervisory blue-collar workers in five areas: forklift drivers; laborers and material movers; packers and packagers; shipping clerks; and stock clerks and order fillers.

“Certainly, for managers and highly-skilled technical workers, it may be a good field to go into,’ Reese said, “but there are tens of thousands of blue collar workers who are making poverty level wages.

Their research built upon a 2013 study by Juan De Lara, an assistant professor of American studies and ethnicity at the University of Southern California. His analysis also found that the warehouse industry relies heavily on temporary workers and that most full-time, blue-collar warehouse workers earn about $23,000 a year, and that women earn even less, about $19,000.

De Lara said it’s important to look at that segment of logistics employees because they make up the largest category of people working inside warehouses.

“What’s particular puzzling is why there’s such a hesitancy to admit those jobs exist and why those people are making those wages,” he said.

Sheheryar Kaoosji, co-director of the Warehouse Worker Resource Center advocacy group in Ontario, said he believes the study reflects what his group has seen with warehouse employees it works with. Many are temporary employees, get only part-time hours or are employed seasonally, and cannot afford basic health care, he said.

“A lot of the workers we talk to are working two or three jobs,” Kaoosji said.

He said although warehouses also provide good-paying managerial and technical job, the system is bifurcated leaving little advancement opportunity for blue-collar workers.

Husing disputes that view, saying many warehouse managers started in blue-collar jobs.

“This is the sector that is providing jobs, providing potential for upward mobility to the middle class,” he said.

And while he disagrees with the studies’ findings, Husing agreed that increasing pay and access to health care for blue collar employees are worthy goals.

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