Q&A with UCLA Student Researchers: Vina Nguyen and Monica Macias
Re:Work, a project of the UCLA Labor Center, employs the principles of research justice, which include recognizing students, workers and community members as experts; promoting equal access to information; and using research as a tool for action. Re:Work provides UCLA students enrolled in the Labor Studies program with the unique opportunity to develop applied research skills through hands-on involvement in all stages of report creation: study design, data collection, analysis and writing.
For the past two years Vina Nguyen and Monica Macias, both currently seniors at UCLA, have worked with the Re:Work team to produce Hour Crisis: Unstable Schedules in the Los Angeles Retail Sector. We talked with these students to learn more about their experience as labor researchers.
How did you get interested in labor and unstable scheduling issues?
Monica: In high school I worked at GameStop to help support my family. It was tough because they would only schedule me for 4 hours a week. At the time, minimum wage was around $8 an hour, so my paychecks came out to $75 every two weeks. It was never enough to make my car payment or buy food. I wanted to work full-time, but they never gave me more hours. This experience is where I first came across the issue of unreliable hours in retail work.
Vina: My father works as an auto mechanic and my mother as an assembler, which led to my interest in labor issues. I recently realized that even though my parents work long hours and earn low wages, they have set hours and stable incomes to support our family. Unlike the workers that we surveyed for Hour Crisis, my parents can make scheduling requests and take time off to care for my grandfather, my brother, and me when we are sick. Working on the scheduling report gave me insight into a different segment of the working class population that faces even more struggles to get by.
Tell me about your roles as student researchers.
Monica: Over the past two years, Vina and I have worked on a report that examines the same issues I was facing as a worker at GameStop. This was the first time that both of us got to learn and practice research skills and apply it to action through the UCLA Labor Center. We were involved throughout the entire process: testing and editing the survey instrument, mapping out Los Angeles’ retail stores, digitizing surveys, and editing the scheduling report.
Vina: We contributed our unique quantitative and qualitative skills to the report. I created fielding updates about the status of survey-taking, maintained the survey database, and wrote literature reviews. Monica ran data analyses and helped in coding variables and cleaning data. We both helped in the report writing and editing process.
What are some key takeaways from the report?
Vina: The report covers the unreliable hours and unstable schedules that Los Angeles retail workers face. One-tenth of employees in the city of Los Angeles, or over 140,000 people, work in the retail industry. Using a research justice approach, we helped collect and analyze over 800 surveys with other students in conjunction with a research team at the UCLA Labor Center and community members. The report found that 8 out of 10 of retail workers do not have a set work schedule. Employers can change schedules with little or no notice, and 64% of workers reported that their managers changed their schedules after they were posted.
Monica: Similar to my experience, nearly half of the workers who were surveyed wanted to work more hours. Without enough hours, workers do not have stable incomes and 1 in 2 workers has trouble paying bills. The report revealed to us how a lack of consistent hours deeply disrupts the lives of retail workers who are just trying to get by and support their families.
Why is this report important?
Vina: To us this report is important in spreading awareness to UCLA students and the Los Angeles community about the working conditions Angelenos face in an industry that plays a big part in the city’s identity and culture. As consumers, we have a big say in the practices of retail companies that we purchase from, and have great potential power to advocate for retail workers across the nation.
Monica: We hope that this report will push politicians to implement fair scheduling policies in Los Angeles’ retail industry that will stabilize worker hours and ultimately protect and invest in laborers and their families. Such policies have already been implemented in many cities and states across the nation, and Los Angeles has an opportunity to not only catch up to other cities and states, but to implement a bolder policy model for this growing movement.
What did you take away from this experience?
Vina: We both have been inspired by our experiences working on this scheduling report and will work towards social justice-based careers after we graduate. Monica wants a career with a think tank in the field of social policy, and I plan to pursue a career working with labor groups in the field of public health.
Monica: Learning more about the struggles LA retail workers go through, contributing to this scheduling report, bringing these workers’ struggles to light, and hopefully making a change in scheduling practices in Los Angeles has been a really eye-opening and empowering experience for the both of us.