By Neil Nisperos
Inland Valley Daily Bulletein

(Link to article.)

The warehousing of goods is a top job provider for the Inland Empire, but UC Riverside researchers say a majority of those jobs typically pay less than a living wage, are often temporary, and do not provide health-care benefits.

One Inland Empire local economist, while agreeing with the researchers’ key recommendations, questions the data they used and the researchers’ objectivity.

A significant share, 60 percent, of the more than 350 blue-collar warehouse workers they interviewed, got their jobs through temporary staffing agencies, enabling warehouse companies to pay them less than those employed directly by the companies, thus avoiding health insurance costs, according to Juliann Allison, a co-author of the wage report, and an associate professor of public policy and gender and sexuality studies.

Two studies were conducted, one on warehouse workers’ wages, and one on access to health care. The studies were funded by the UC Institute for Research on Labor and Employment.

“I’ve worked in a warehouse for years and have had major health problems while I worked for minimum wage with no benefits,” Rafael Sanchez, a warehouse employee in Jurupa Valley, said in a statement provided by Sheheryar Kaoosji, director of the Warehouse Worker Resource Center advocacy group. “In this situation, I have medical bills I will never be able to pay... .”

The UCR researchers made three key recommendations:

• Raise the minimum wage to a living wage — about $15 an hour, researchers said — particularly in Ontario, where 338 warehouses were operating in 2013.

• Incentivize the conversion of temporary positions to full-time jobs through community benefit agreements and union contracts.

• Reduce the cost of deductibles for Affordable Care Act health insurance plans.

“I would hope that (in) the cities in our region, including the city of Ontario, that policymakers consider raising the minium wage,” said a co-author of the wages report, Ellen Reese, a professor of sociology and chair of the Labor Studies program at UCR. “I think it would help to raise the wage. The city of Los Angeles adopted that kind of policy, and I think it’s definitely a policy we could use in our own region.”

Allison said that in addition to a living wage, more programs could be offered to train people earning low wages to move up into positions with more responsibility and higher pay.

“If you have a situation where people are routinely being paid low wages, if you can offer a way to move up, it’s not quite as bad,” Allison said.

John Husing, chief economist for the Inland Empire Economic Partnership business advocacy organization, said he agreed with the recommendations but disputed the data used and characterized the report as one-sided.

“Essentially, what they proved is what they’ve set out to prove themselves, and it is in complete contradiction to the official state data, which shows a much better pay scale for people in this sector,” Husing said.

“One of the findings is that there are an inordinate number of people working in the field who come from employment agencies,” Husing said.

But government data, Husing said, show the proportion of warehouse workers from employment agencies to be much lower than the UCR researchers reported.

“That finding, by itself, shows what they’re doing cannot possibly be accurate,” he said.

Husing and others have long pointed to the logistics industry as a silver lining to the Inland Empire’s economic boom and bust. It’s a path to the middle class, he has said.

The region’s logistics sector, or the jobs related to the warehousing and transportation of goods to and from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach throughout the Inland Empire, carried the most job growth in the past year, he told a crowded room of business and government leaders earlier this year.

And such jobs continue to make news.

Warehouse worker jobs in the Inland Empire are expected to expand significantly with Amazon hiring 2,000 more people to work in its Inland Empire fulfillment centers in Redlands, Moreno Valley and San Bernardino. The Australia-based Goodman Group and its Irvine-based North American subsidiary, Goodman Birtcher, are also continuing development on a $350 million, 2.4 million square-foot logistics complex in Eastvale, designed to accommodate office space, light industry, a shopping center, a hospital and a hotel, according to a description on the developer’s website.

The project promises to bring hundreds of new jobs to the region.

The region’s logistics sector, or the jobs related to the warehousing and transportation of goods to and from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach throughout the Inland Empire, carried the most job growth in the past year, Husing said earlier this year. There were 86,000 warehouse jobs in the Inland Empire, according to the latest data by the California Economic Development Department for June 2015, up 8.4 percent from the year prior.

But researchers say there’s a story behind such numbers.

Researchers from UCR’s Labor Studies program and School of Public Policy’s Center for Sustainable Suburban Development reported they interviewed more than 350 Inland Empire warehouse workers in 2012 and 2013.

Their jobs, according to the researchers, typically pay less than the living wage, which the authors said contributes to poverty rates in the Inland Empire that exceed poverty rates for California and the nation.

“I think the report gives an accurate picture of what a lot of warehouse workers are going through,” said Kaoosji, of the Warehouse Worker Resource Center. “And we think it’s good information.”

The UCR report comes on the heels of a USC researcher’s report in 2013. It reported that the logistics industry’s reputation as a path to prosperity for less-educated workers and the Inland Empire as a whole is based on misleading analysis that doubles the actual median wage earned by most people in the industry.

In his eight-page report for the university’s Program for Environmental and Regional Equity, Juan D. De Lara calculated that if you removed the white-collar jobs that were typically put into wage calculations, the median yearly pay for such as job is only $22,000 — and only $10,067 for temporary workers.