'You can't unionise robots': Exploring the impact of technology on the nature of work in the logistics sector in the US and UK

   Management School

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  Prof K Newsome, Dr K Fox-Hodess  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Project description

The expansion of e-commerce has increased the demand for rapid home delivery, transformed logistics and facilitated the growth of sub-contracting to a diversified logistics/parcel delivery market. Recent debate has focussed upon how the contractual and competitive pressures faced by logistics companies impacts upon the work and employment. Logistics workers find themselves within a ‘perfect storm’ of globalisation, fragmented production, new logistics technologies, de-regulated and segmented labour markets coupled with eroding collective regulation. With regard to digitalisation, research has highlighted how logistics workers experience increasing levels of workplace degradation through the implementation of ‘digital Taylorism’, close surveillance and monitoring of worker activity, coupled with draconian performance management regimes. In parcel delivery, for example, where work is episodic and remote, research highlights that the introduction of algorithmic tools and routing software reduced worker autonomy, discretion and further eroded the porosity of the working day. To date, there is limited research which has provided a comparative analysis of these developments exploring the impact of technology on the experience of work at different points of the logistics supply chain (i.e., warehousing and parcel delivery).   

This project will focus upon the impact of technology on the experience of work for e-commerce workers within the retail logistics sector in the UK and the US focusing on warehouse and parcel delivery workers. More concretely it aims to uncover how technology impacts upon the labour process in relation to; skill utilisation; autonomy and discretion; surveillance and monitoring; working time and performance management. It also aims to explore how race and gender shape the experience of work for logistics workers in these two regions. The project will comprise of qualitative research methods embracing a series of case studies in both warehousing and parcel delivery in the UK and the US. The case studies will be located in key regions in the UK and US which are dominated by logistics employment notably South Yorkshire and the Inland Empire in the US.

International collaborator(s)

University of California Riverside’s Inland Empire Labor and Community Research Center (IELCRC) director and Professor of Sociology Ellen Reese will provide research advising support on an ongoing basis to the PhD student. Professor Reese and colleagues at the IELCRC will assist the student in building contacts with relevant trade unions and gaining access to logistics industry employers and work sites for research purposes. In addition, the student will be provided with office space at the university and will be welcome to attend academic events and classes in the Sociology Department and Labor Studies programme.

Secondary support will be provided by Professor Jake Alimahomed-Wilson at the Department of Sociology at California State University – Long Beach, who will provide additional research advising support and assistance in building contacts and gaining access for the SUMS PGR student. Professor Reese and Professor Alimahomed-Wilson are internationally recognised experts in the study of labour issues in the global logistics industry and co-conveners of the University of Sheffield Centre for Decent Work’s International Labour and Logistics Research Network (ILLRN).

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