The Future of Work

By | Field News

Written by Heather Smith, Senior Program Officer, JusticePeople ringing doorbells, dropping off packages and moving on to the next block in unmarked vans is an everyday occurrence. I began to wonder more about who pays the delivery drivers? Who boxes up the products and puts them in the vans? How is Next-Day and Same-Day Delivery even possible? The short and simple answers are warehouses and temp workers. However, there is a hidden story behind our online orders and deliveries. It is a story that the Warehouse Workers for Justice (WWJ) strives to expose and harness for equitable social change. It is also a story of structural change and equity advocacy that aligns with the Field Foundation’s new Justice investment program.

I visited WWJ this past fall and quickly learned that warehouse and temp workers are one of the fastest growing sources of jobs in the Chicago region. Large warehouses have sprouted up across Chicago and along highways in the suburbs to solve the “last mile problem” of getting goods from the warehouse to your doorstep. Chicago is the largest rail, truck and water logistics hub in the Western Hemisphere. Workers move $1.3 trillion worth of goods through the region annually and logistics adds over $20 billion to the gross regional product.

Executive Director Mark Meinsteir of the WWJ believes that Chicago’s growing distribution and logistics industry can and should offer thousands of stable, living wage jobs to residents. Instead, we see this industry offering dangerous, low wage work.1  Warehouse and temp workers complete long hours moving goods and hauling pallets for 10-12 hours, often without daylight2. Many warehouse workers make poverty level wages and about twenty-five percent of workers need government assistance or a second job to provide for their family.3 They are also subject to rampant wage theft such as unpaid overtime, payroll withdrawal fees as well as sexual harassment and racial discrimination.4

Warehouse workers are predominantly low-wage workers of color that have disproportionately borne the brunt of trends toward precarious forms of gig economy employment such as temp or contractor positions with unstable schedules and no recourse for complaints. These low wages and difficult working conditions continue to widen the distribution of wealth between races and result in devastating effects on families and communities of color.5 WWJ, Chicago Workers Collaborative and several other organizations recently worked to pass a Temp Worker Bill of Rights in 2017.  The new law increases direct hires, addresses gender pay gaps, and sets improvements in scheduling, pay and benefits and enforcement in areas of discrimination, wage theft and safety.  This is one of the strongest laws in the country protecting workers.

There is tremendous opportunity and potential in ecommerce in Chicago. Meinster explains that there were no Amazon ecommerce jobs in Chicago in 2014; by 2017 there were over 10,000 jobs. This rising trend is expected to continue as consumers increasingly turn to two-day and even two-hour shipping.  Amazon now has the same number of employees as the Walmart we remember 25 years ago and regardless of the upcoming headquarters decision,is poised for tremendous growth in the years ahead. WWJ sees the enforcement of the laws that we do have, informing workers of their rights, and holding firms accountable to their workforce through binding agreements as opportunity plays that could impact the behavior of large ecommerce firms before they grow too large to make those structural changes possible.

Worker centers like WWJ are aiming to bring justice to the ecommerce world which is changing the nature of work as we know it in a profound way.  “By some estimates, one-third of US workers are no longer employed by their ‘real’ boss. And, with Right to Work laws that challenge unions, there is a new, often hidden side of work growing faster and faster,” explained Meinster.

Organizations working on systemic change like WWJ are the type of justice investments that the Field Foundation are identifying as it moves toward supporting upstream, root changes for justice and equity. WWJ’s work is uncovering structural inequities, building power of low-wage workers and creating systemic policy changes and practices. WWJ is in favor of ecommerce companies bringing jobs to Chicago so we can continue to build our city as a freight, rail, truck, water logistics center—historical assets of Chicago that put in on the map in the first place. The actions of WWJ benefit not just low-wage workers but all workers who need voice and dignity. WWJ’s work sets the path for low wage workers to enter and bolster the middle class which could begin a powerful ripple effect on small businesses and communities of color.  We know that ecommerce is only going to increase, and WWJ is aiming to ensure that the future of work is sustainable and equitable for those who are the engine of Chicago’s ecommerce logistics.




1NESRI and National Staffing Workers Alliance. (2017). Temporary work, permanent abuse: How big business destroys good jobs. Retrieved from

2LaVecchia, O. (2016). How Amazon’s tightening grip on the economy is stifling competition, eroding jobs, and threatening communities. Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Retrieved from

3Warehouse Workers for Justice. (n.d.) Bad jobs in goods movement: Warehouse work in Will County [report] Retrieved from

4Warehouse Workers for Justice. (2017). Boxed in: Gender discrimination in Illinois warehouses. [report] Retrieved from

5Branch, E.H. & Hanley, C. (2017). A racial-gender lens on precarious nonstandard employment. Research in the Sociology of Work, 31, p 183-213.

Winter 2018 Grantees

By | Field News, Grantees

Join us in celebrating all our newest grantees featured below! In this grant cycle, we officially implemented our new guidelines in Justice, Art and Leadership Investment programs that support our mission of community empowerment. This portfolio demonstrates organizations working on policy and advocacy, building non-traditional art spaces and partnerships, and revealing hidden inequities and talents by amplifying community voices. We’re proud to support this tremendous group!

Announcing New Board Members

By | Field News




Foundation Adds Two More Powerful Chicago Voices

CHICAGO — The Chicago-based Field Foundation is proud to announce the appointments of two new board members, Cathy J. Cohen, noted author, University of Chicago professor, and Founder of BYP (Black Youth Project); and the Rev. Dr. Nicholas Pearce, CEO of the Vocati Group, a clinical professor at the Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management, and assistant pastor of Chicago’s Apostolic Church of God.

The announcement underscores the Foundation’s commitment to reflecting the talent of Chicago’s communities. It also supports the Foundation’s new mission of Community Empowerment through Justice, Art and Leadership Investment. With the new members, the board’s racial and gender makeup now comprises 50 percent people of color and 57 percent women. Cohen and Pearce are both African Americans. Most foundation trustee boards average a racial composition of less than 15 percent.

“For decades the Field board has ensured this foundation is an engaged and respectful partner with nonprofits across Chicago,” said Foundation President Angelique Power. “These latest trustee appointments carry two of the nation’s brightest thinkers into our work. They believe deeply in our new direction and have built legacies of transforming lives. We are thrilled to have their incredible leadership.”

Cohen brings a deep understanding of the dynamics of race, class and politics in America. She is the author of two books: “Democracy Remixed: Black Youth and the Future of American Politics,” (Oxford University Press 2010) and “The Boundaries of Blackness: AIDS and the Breakdown of Black Politics” (University of Chicago Press 1999) and is co-editor with Kathleen Jones and Joan Tronto of “Women Transforming Politics: An Alternative Reader” (NYU, 1997). Her work has been published in numerous journals and edited volumes including the American Political Science Review, GLQ, NOMOS, and Social Text. She is principal investigator of two major projects: The Black Youth Project and the GenForward Survey.

“I wholeheartedly embrace the mission of the Field Foundation and look forward to furthering their important efforts,” Cohen said. “At this juncture in American history, it is imperative that we examine the nexus of race, politics and culture if we are to understand how to build an equitable and just future for all.”

Pearce is a globally recognized expert in the areas of values-driven leadership, collaboration, and organizational change. He has served as a trusted adviser and strategic partner to leaders of corporations, social-impact organizations, governments, and communities of faith on six continents. He is also an ordained minister, currently serving as Assistant Pastor of Chicago’s landmark Apostolic Church of God. He and his award-winning work have been featured in global media outlets including The Atlantic, Bloomberg Businessweek, the Chicago Tribune, the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Crain’s Chicago Business, Fast Company, Forbes, Fortune, The New York Times and the Washington Post. A Chicago native, Pearce has been named one of Chicago’s 40 Game Changers (under 40) by WVON/Ariel Investments, and he has been a Leadership Greater Chicago Fellow since 2015.

“The Field Foundation is one of this city’s most bold and forward-thinking philanthropic institutions, and I’m humbled to be a part of its future,” Pearce said. “The Foundation’s focus on Leadership Investment is especially exciting because Chicago is filled with visionaries who have big hearts and big ideas. I believe that Field’s decision to strategically invest in our city’s leadership capacity will have an impact for generations to come.”

After intensely studying the Chicago neighborhoods with the greatest needs, the Foundation focused on understanding how funding with a racial equity lens can improve outcomes, Power said. That means investing in community-based organizations, community leaders, and building alliances to ensure success. Power’s Letter from the President outlines the rationale for the funding shift where racial justice was not an afterthought but was central in forming the new strategy.

Of particular note is where the money will primarily be focused. While only 6.9 percent of national foundation giving goes directly to communities of color, the Field Foundation has dedicated 60 percent to groups that are African, Latinx, Asian, Arab and Native American (ALAANA) organizations and gives 50 percent to Chicago’s South and West Sides, areas that are primarily communities of color.

“We are proud of the process the Field Foundation has gone through in reexamining our grantmaking priorities and the new board leadership that is emblematic of our values,” said Board Chair Lyle Logan.

About the Field Foundation
Founded in 1940 by Marshall Field III, the Field Foundation is a private, independent foundation that has been dedicated to the promise of Chicago for over 80 years. The Field Foundation aims its grantmaking toward the goal of Community Empowerment through Justice, Art and Leadership Investment. With racial equity at the center of its giving, it directs dollars to critical organizations working to address systemic issues in Chicago and aims to directly benefit some of our city’s most divested communities.

For more information, visit the Field Foundation.


Fall 2017 Grantees

By | Field News, Grantees | No Comments