On October 6-7, 2016, Rutgers SMLR’s Center for Innovation in Worker Organization (CIWO) hosted the Labor and Research Action Network’s (LRAN) two-day logistics conference at Rutgers’ Labor Education Center. More than forty participants gathered including university-based academics and researchers and organizers from unions, worker centers and policy organizations.
The goals of the conference were for scholars and practitioners to exchange relevant current research on logistics, identify overlapping interests and ideas for policy and organizing campaigns, and to identify research gaps and needs.
Logistics has been called the “invisible infrastructure” of global trade. Business logistics has become a central driver of competitive advantage, with some suggesting that that supply chains, rather than companies, are the main competitors. Working conditions in sectors along the supply chain have been the subject of both scholarly attention and media exposés, which have framed the transportation and warehousing industries as highly fragmented and reliant on extreme forms of cost suppression and risk-shifting, borne almost exclusively by low-wage workers.
Worker centers, often in partnership with unions, community organizations, and faith-based groups, have launched organizing campaigns around a wide range of issues including wages and wage theft, working conditions, and environmental concerns. And while unions have long represented workers in transportation and warehousing, the changing structure of the industry and erosion of direct employment relationships have made organizing campaigns even more difficult.
At the conference, scholars and practitioners discussed the changing landscapes of power and value in supply chain logistics, how trends in subcontracting affect workers and their attempts to organize, and how recent labor policies and regulations may open up new opportunities for workers to respond. Participants also grappled with the varying geographies of logistics and how trends in technology and e-commerce are impacting the sector, including Amazon as a leading force driving new trends and changes.
Participants came from organizations including International Transport Workers’ Federation, the New School, RWDSU, Workers United-SEIU, Center for Popular Democracy, University of Minnesota, University of Southern California, Illinois Institute of Technology, Florida International University, Ironbound Community Organization, University of Illinois at Chicago, Sierra Club, University of North Florida, Queen Mary-University of London, LAANE, University of British Columbia, New Labor, Warehouse Workers for Justice, Institute for Local Self Reliance, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, University of Greenwich (UK), Jobs with Justice, Food Chain Workers Alliance, University of Sheffield (UK), Yale Law School, New Trade Union Initiative (India), National Employment Law Project, United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, Change to Win, and LIFT Fund.
The two-day conference was organized by a planning committee that included Beth Gutelius of the University of Illinois at Chicago, David Bensman of Rutgers University, Sanjay Pinto of Rutgers University, Cassandra Ogren of the Teamsters, Ben Woods of Jobs with Justice, and Janice Fine and Marilyn Sneiderman of Rutgers' SMLR Center for Innovation in Worker Organization. Funding was generously provided by the Teamsters and Ford Foundation.