Labor Day 2021: A day for reflection on how we can rebuild a more equitable economy for all

By Abel Valenzuela Jr.  | September 9, 2021

This Labor Day is both a day of reflection and a time to look toward a better tomorrow. I salute and honor all workers across the United States and the globe, and especially thank the workers in Los Angeles who continue to provide countless essential services during the ongoing global battle with COVID-19.  I am also thankful to all of our teachers and school workers who are courageously transitioning to reopen our schools. You matter, your work matters, and because of your sacrifices and excellence, so many lives are saved and our children, elderly, and our communities move forward.

While we have endured immense challenges during the pandemic, this crisis also opened a different and more honest lens from which to view, appreciate, and re-engage with workers to build a more equitable economy that compensates and treats even the most vulnerable workers fairly and with dignity. 

At the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, we continue to research, innovate, and engage workers in self-advocacy and collective power. This work would not be possible without our faculty, postdoctoral scholars, staff researchers and hundreds of undergraduate and graduate students interested in labor studies and in making a difference in workers’ lives. 

And now, we will be able to undertake this important role in a permanent location. Our campus was awarded a one-time state budget allocation of $15 million to seismically renovate the UCLA Labor Center, located across from historic MacArthur Park. Adjacent to downtown Los Angeles and home to a rich and vibrant immigrant and working-class community, the building is in direct proximity to the communities served by the Labor Center’s research and programs. The legislative directive includes renaming the building in honor of Rev. James Lawson Jr., famed civil and worker rights leader, and I couldn’t be more thrilled with this historic outcome. 

Despite the pandemic, we continue to secure grants and contracts to continue our important work in areas such as youth employment, workforce development, worker centers, college workers and learners, the growing gig economy, wage theft, Black workers, immigrant workers, precarious employment. I am especially proud of the recent launch of the Center for Racial Equity at Work (CARE) Initiative, which focuses on Black worker employment and leadership development. 

As summer comes to a close and I reflect on Labor Day and the work that I do at UCLA, I can’t help but believe that a better future is around the corner – our students will make sure of that, and our faculty, our research projects, and our leadership programs will similarly push for change. Our work at IRLE only portends a greater and more equitable future for workers and by extension, their families. Happy Labor Day to all.

Abel Valenzuela Jr. is director of the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, Special Advisor to the Chancellor on Immigration Policy, and professor of Chicano studies and urban planning. He is the author of several research articles, books and reports on demography and population studies, immigrant labor markets, immigrant settlements and urban economies. His work has helped frame numerous national public policy narratives concerning immigrants in America’s workforce.