Historic labor center expansion begins across UC Campuses

An unprecedented ongoing $13 million allocation will fund five new centers, expand labor studies and occupational health programs across UC

March 21, 2023 | UCLA Labor Center 

LOS ANGELES — Scholars studying the economic and social impacts of a variety of labor and employment issues are launching new labor centers across the University of California. The new centers will provide timely, policy-relevant research, educate the next generation of labor and community leaders and will grow labor and occupational health programs across UC.

Five new centers will open this month at UC Davis, UC Irvine, UC Riverside, UC San Diego and UC Santa Cruz modeled after existing centers at UCLA, UC Berkeley and UC Merced. In the coming months, the new centers will create advisory boards and will work with local labor councils to develop critical research initiatives. A similar center is under discussion at UC Santa Barbara. 

“The expansion of UC Labor Centers represents the largest growth in the history of the field of labor education, and comes at an unprecedented time of national labor resurgence,” said Kent Wong, director at the UCLA Labor Center. “We are deeply committed to supporting the growth and expansion of centers that bring together university faculty, students and key labor leaders around a shared vision of worker justice.”

The new centers will build upon UC’s decades-long labor research and education programs that have provided policy makers, labor and community leaders with cutting-edge research focused on working Californians, especially workers of color, immigrants and low-wage workers. New funding provided in the state budget will also expand undergraduate labor education across the UC system through new course offerings, student internships and other initiatives.  

“The challenges of work and inequality are front and center in the lives of our students and their communities,” said UC Irvine Labor Center faculty director Virginia Parks. “I am so excited to help connect students, working people and unions across the state through a network of UC centers committed to putting workers at the center of California’s economy.”

The labor studies expansion will kick off with Labor Summer 2023, an engaged-learning summer program that partners with labor and community organizations. The program will expose students to an immersive experience in the labor movement and will offer topics in social and economic justice at the intersection of race, class, gender and immigration.

Last summer, an unprecedented $13 million ongoing funding allocation to expand UC labor centers was approved as part of California’s 2022-23 budget representing the single largest budget increase to UC labor centers since the creation of the flagship centers at Berkeley and UCLA in 1964. 

This statewide growth comes at a time of increased challenges to workers. The UC Merced Community and Labor Center – the first new UC labor center in fifty-eight years– was established at the onset of the pandemic, and published a series of applied research and policy reports, briefs and fact sheets that informed the development and passage of timely state policies benefiting workers.

“California workers face global economic and environmental challenges,” said Ana Padilla, executive director of the UC Merced Community and Labor Center. “We are excited to engage with labor, to carry out the UC’s mission, and to innovate strategies for building worker power in the twenty-first century.”

The labor occupational health programs at UCLA, UC Berkeley and UC Merced will also receive support to expand existing initiatives.

“Workers face so many issues that impact their health — from chemicals to infectious diseases to workplace stress and workplace violence,” said Laura Stock, director at the Labor Occupational Health Program at UC Berkeley. “There’s an urgent need to build worker power to address poor working conditions and advance quality and equitable jobs.”

The collaborative efforts to expand this funding were championed by the California Labor Federation, key labor unions throughout the state and elected officials including California State Sen. María Elena Durazo (D-Los Angeles), Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood), Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), Assemblymember Mike Fong (D-Los Angeles), Assemblymember Ash Kalra (D-San Jose), Senator Nancy Skinner (D-East Bay) and Senator Ana Caballero (D-Merced). 

“For decades, the research of our existing Labor Centers has informed some critical and innovative labor policies in our state. The expansion of the new Labor Centers will promote a more equitable economy at a crucial time for California,” said Durazo.

Existing and new centers house nationally-recognized faculty and staff experts in a wide array of labor and employment topics including: the future of work, the gig economy, low-wage worker sectors, immigrant and Black workers, labor history, wage theft and workplace occupational safety and health, among many other topics. Experts are available for media interviews upon request, campus media contacts are listed below. 

Campus media contacts: 

University of California, Los Angeles, Citlalli Chávez-Nava, citlallichavez@ucla.edu, (310)562-0943 

University of California, Berkeley, Julie Light, julie.light@berkeley.edu, (415) 215-5737

University of California, Irvine, Mimi Ko Cruz, mkcruz@uci.edu, (949) 824-1278

University of California, Merced, Ana Padilla, anapadilla@ucmerced.edu, (213) 884-0407

University of California, San Diego, Lilly Irani, lirani@ucsd.edu (650) 906-0849

University of California, Riverside, Ellen Reese, ellenr@ucr.edu, (213) 793-0326

University of California, Santa Cruz, Elisa Smith, esmith16@ucsc.edu, (916) 673-9835 

University of California, Santa Barbara, Ralph Arbrust-Sandoval, armbrust@chicst.ucsb.edu

University of California, Davis, Leticia Saucedo, lmsaucedo@ucdavis.edu.

Occupational Health Program Media Contacts:

LOHP, University of California, Berkeley, Laura Stock, lstock@berkeley.edu

LOSH, University of California, Los Angeles, Kevin Riley, KRiley@irle.ucla.edu

Media Contact

Citlalli Chávez-Nava

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