Center dedicated to improving workers’ health receives $ 7 million


Public health experts at the University of Illinois at Chicago will continue their efforts to improve the health of low-wage workers, thanks to a five-year, $ 7 million grant from the National Institute for Safety and Health. Health at work.

The UIC Center for Healthy Work, part of the School of Public Health, was first launched in 2016. The new funds planned will support the center, a center of excellence for the total health of workers, and its ongoing projects through 2026 to reduce health disparities and health barriers faced by workers earning low wages or in other precarious employment conditions.

Precarious employment refers to low-paid, unprotected or precarious work and people in these circumstances do not generally enjoy the same benefits as those in more secure or permanent positions, such as health insurance or sponsored medical leave. ’employer. Examples include street vendors, artisans, domestic caregivers, and people in temporary or hazardous working conditions, such as those in manufacturing and warehouses.

“Precarious employment rates are increasing and our social structures and policies are lagging behind in providing basic protections to many workers,” said Lorraine Conroy, director of the center and UIC professor of environmental sciences. and occupational health. “We hope that through collaborative and participatory action research, we can create positive changes that will better protect and promote the health of workers. “

Conroy said these rates were increasing before the COVID-19 pandemic and workers in precarious jobs, who do not have the flexibility to work from home, or who were unable to keep their jobs due to a illness, or fear of contracting the virus, experienced significant obstacles to health during the pandemic. Low-income communities have also experienced a disproportionate share of COVID-19 cases and deaths.

Researchers at the UIC Center for Healthy Work conducted a massive awareness campaign and engaged hundreds of community members in the Lawndale neighborhood of Chicago and across Illinois in research to understand the nature and prevalence of the disease. precarious and low-paid work.

With the renewed funding, researchers at the center will advance this work with community members and step up their efforts to empower workers.

A new project includes working with a large employer to develop and implement a process that uses data to identify factors that prevent workers’ well-being, such as the social determinants of health or factors of diversity, from being successful. equity and inclusion. The goal is to improve the health of workers through an organizational decision-making method that promotes healthy work initiatives as a sustainable business strategy.

The center will also expand collaborations between partners at the systems level, such as those in public health agencies and workers’ advocacy groups.

“To bring about lasting change, our research must be actionable and stakeholders at all levels must be involved. There is no ivory tower with answers. Workers need to be seated at the table, and public health and government agencies need to listen to them. We need better solutions to protect workers, or we’ll all suffer, ”said Elizabeth Fisher, deputy director of the center and research specialist at the School of Public Health. “Of the many things COVID-19 has revealed about our company, it has shown us very clearly that the health of workers is public health. We hope that the work of the center will make this problem more visible.

Through research and the wide dissemination of data and findings, the UIC team hopes to draw attention to the impact of low-wage and precarious work on health in local communities and provide policy makers with the information needed to drive effective change. In addition, to ensure that workers know their rights and can find resources.

“A lot of what we hear from people is the feeling that whatever the circumstances, they have to come to terms with it. That even if they can’t sleep, aren’t treated fairly, or don’t have access to affordable care when they get sick, it’s better than not having a job, ”said Ronaldo Favela, partner researcher and outreach coordinator for the center. “Part of our challenge is for unhealthy work to be normalized by everyone. ”

“Improving the health of workers is not a business offering one or even a few health services. These are social and political changes that prevent an entire class of workers, a growing class of workers, from being excluded from basic opportunities to maintain or achieve health, ”said Conroy.

To date, the main findings of researchers at UIC’s Center for Healthy Work include:

  • Establishment of the Healthy Communities Through Healthy Work Initiative and the Healthy Work Collaborative, a training series that included public health, healthcare, labor, government, non-profit and advocacy organizations. During the events, researchers at the center helped public health and healthcare practitioners better understand precarious work and explore how policies, systems and environmental change initiatives can create pathways to work. healthier.
  • Establishing the Grand Lawndale Healthy Work Project identify community-based solutions to promote the health of workers in the Lawndale and Little Village neighborhoods, which have a higher proportion of jobs in low-wage jobs and lower individual and family incomes, compared to the rest of Chicago.
  • Analysis of census and labor data to create a profile of labor in the Lawndale area. The analysis found that residents of Lawndale are primarily employed in retail, health care and social assistance; Little Village residents are primarily employed in manufacturing, accommodation and food services, administrative support, and waste management. The researchers also found that 80% of these jobs are in the private sector, over 20% have no health insurance coverage, and the highest level of education for 29% of residents is a degree from high school or similar. These and other findings are described in the research brief, “A Systematic Analysis of Census and Labor Data to Create a Community Profile of Labor”.
  • Identification of residents’ perceptions of healthy and unhealthy work opportunities. Healthy work has been described as including flexible working hours, decent wages and supportive colleagues and management. Unhealthy work has been described as including systemic inequalities and exploitation. Physical and psychological stress has also been shown to be pervasive and described as an exposure, an outcome, and a cause of unhealthy work. These results are reported in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, “Impact of precarious work on district health: Concept mapping by a community / academic partnership”.
  • Provide critical data analysis support to county officials ahead of a 2019 Boone County Board of Directors vote (11-1) to support the County Health Department’s vision of achieving a healthy workforce and ensuring a safe and secure working environment healthy for its residents.
  • Convening of a research network with monthly meetings to discuss and disseminate emerging trends and data with affiliated researchers.

Find out more about the UIC Center for Healthy Work.

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