Gig Workers’ Health Studied by New California Labor Laboratory – UCSF News Services

Initiative Is One of Ten NIOSH Centers of Excellence for  Total Worker Health


Rebecca Wolfson

By some estimates, California’s alternate or gig work economy makes up to 40 percent of the state’s workforce. Most of these project- and task-based work situations do not provide workers with job security, health and retirement benefits, or legal protections, yet little is known about how these working conditions affect workers’ health.

The California Labor Laboratory is a new initiative of UC San Francisco, UC Berkeley, and the California Department of Public Health to design and inform policies, programs, and practices that advance worker well-being. Funded by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, the center will address the health of California workers in both traditional jobs and other employment arrangements, including gig workers, subcontractors, independent contractors, consultants, seasonal and temporary workers.

“The California Labor Lab is focused on understanding the implications for the health and welfare of workers even when workers are not afforded systematic protections that have come from traditional employment,” said Ed Yelin, PhD, the director of the new center and a professor with UCSF’s Institute of Health Policy Studies. “Alternative work arrangements have led to the diffusion of responsibility for the welfare of workers, with potentially harmful consequences for their health.”

The lab’s research includes a longitudinal study of 5,000 working-age Californians; an examination of gender and race/ethnicity disparities in working conditions in the service sector; and an education and prevention campaign to prevent silicosis, a lethal lung disease that afflicts an increasing number of stone industry workers who are exposed to silica dust.

In addition to researching the health impacts of alternative employment situations, the lab will develop interventions to help improve working conditions.

“Work has changed so much and it’s time to take an accounting of it, especially for these new forms of work,” said Cristina Banks, PhD, director of the Interdisciplinary Center for Healthy Workplaces at UC Berkeley, who will serve as associate director of outreach for the lab.

Policy and regulatory changes will be necessary, but Banks said she will also explore forms of protection and empowerment such as worker cooperatives and associations, and tangible tools and solutions for employers.

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