UCLA Labor Center receives $15 million allocation in state budget to renovate its historic downtown location

Overseeing MacArthur Park and the L.A. skyline, the building will be named in honor of civil rights icon Rev. James Lawson Jr.

Citlalli Chávez-Nava | July 13, 2021 

California’s 2021-22 budget, signed by Governor Newson last night, includes a $15 million allocation to renovate the UCLA Labor Center’s historic MacArthur Park building, which has provided a base for low-wage worker research, innovative labor projects, and community-engaged learning and leadership development for hundreds of UCLA students. UCLA has leased this building since 2002 and purchased the building in November 2020. This one-time allocation will fund necessary renovations for the building and establish a permanent home for the center. 

State Senator Durazo (D-Los Angeles), State Assembly member Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles) and State Assembly member Santiago (D-Los Angeles) championed the effort by submitting legislative member requests to their respective budget leaders. The California Black, Latino and LGBTQ caucuses and numerous labor, faith, and educational organizations throughout the state also supported the requests. 

The legislators also proposed that the building be named after Reverend James M. Lawson Jr., a civil rights and workers’ rights icon who worked closely with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and who has taught a labor studies course on nonviolence at UCLA for the past twenty years. In 2018, UCLA awarded Rev. Lawson the UCLA Medal, the university’s highest honor.

“I had the privilege of introducing this initiative before the California State Senate,” said Durazo. “I am excited that the UCLA Labor Center will have a permanent home in my senatorial district, and that we will name the building in honor of an outstanding national American hero and my good friend Rev. James Lawson Jr.”

The UCLA Labor Center was established in 1964 as the Center for Labor Research and Education within the UCLA Institute of Industrial Relations, now the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment (IRLE), through a statewide joint labor-university committee. Since its inception, the center has been dedicated to research, education, and service in the interest of California’s workers. 

“We have worked with the UCLA Labor Center on a host of issues in support of our members,” said Ron Herrera, president of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor. “They have brought research, policy support and trained staff to the cause of labor over many years. It was an honor to partner with them in creating a permanent home for the UCLA Labor Center in the heart of Los Angeles, where workers live and work.”

In an effort to connect UCLA students and faculty to the broader Los Angeles worker community, the Labor Center first leased the building overlooking MacArthur Park in 2002.

“We wanted to bridge the gap between the university and the labor movement, worker centers, and community-based social justice organizations,” said Kent Wong, director at the UCLA Labor Center. “We’re located in the most immigrant-dense zip code in the country and in direct proximity to the communities served by our research and programs.”

Since opening its doors downtown, the Labor Center strengthened its notable brand rooted in social justice values and cutting-edge worker research, investigating topics such as wage theft, Black unemployment, immigrant health, young workers, and the gig economy. The center is also recognized for its innovative worker education and popular education programs, promoting student internship opportunities within the economic justice movement, and promoting a global workers’ rights agenda. 

“To have a permanent presence for our work in this neighborhood is truly historic and for me it’s also personally significant since the Labor Center embraced my own research on day laborers almost two decades ago,” said IRLE Director Abel Valenzuela Jr. “It was on the steps of this building that I first began a conversation about day labor, it’s importance to the local economy, and about the workers themselves including their humanity, their engagement with residents and employers, and their local community and neighborhood impacts.”

Representatives of the UCLA Labor Center expressed their appreciation for the impressive support from legislative members and leaders, Governor Newsom, UC Regents President John Perez, the Los Angeles City Council, L.A. County Board of Supervisors, and more than two hundred worker and social justice organizations and leaders who believe in the positive impact the center has and will continue to play in workers’ lives. 

As the UCLA Labor Center and IRLE staff plan for this next chapter they are redoubling their commitment to advance social and economic recovery in a post-pandemic environment, guided by the principles and values of the civil rights leader whose name the building will soon bear. 

“Our research and programs have moved the needle on labor policy in ways that have impacted the labor and social justice movement nationwide,” said Wong. “And as we envision the future of this historic building, we will be guided by the teachings and the spirit of Rev. Lawson to promote racial and economic justice for all working people.” 

Media Contact: Citlalli Chávez-Nava, citlallichavez@ucla.edu