M.C.P., Masters in City Planning, MIT, Specialization: Community and Economic Development, 1988
Ph.D., Urban and Regional Studies, 1995
I am deeply honored to lead the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment (IRLE). I consider my appointment an opportunity to do what we do best at UCLA: innovative research, relevant teaching, and service that makes a difference.
Born and raised in Los Angeles, I feel a special connection to the “public” in UCLA’s designation as the “number one public university.” My parents immigrated from Mexico to Los Angeles. My father, a hard-working entrepreneur who arrived during a period of massive growth and demographic change, learned to upholster and transform old furniture into new. He taught me to love our city, its potential to embrace change, and the opportunities it offers its residents. My mother became a public preschool teacher working with immigrant families. She taught my siblings and me the power of schooling, reading, and writing, and as a result, we are all the proud products of the University of California. After completing my doctorate at MIT, it was my dream to return to Los Angeles and work at the flagship campus of the University of California. I’ve never left because I believe in UCLA’s mission as a public institution that serves the residents of Los Angeles and California.
At the IRLE, our work is dedicated to research, teaching, and service with the primary goal of leveraging social science to better understand and develop policies to improve workers’ lives. We undertake rigorous, timely research about changing labor markets and their impact on marginalized workers, including immigrants, Black workers, young workers, gig workers, domestic workers, and of course, essential and frontline workers. At the institute, we also train workers on health and safety measures that can make the difference between life and death on the job. We round out our research portfolio by offering cutting-edge workshops and training for executives in the human resources field on recruiting and retaining diverse and skilled workforces.
Finally, to connect with UCLA’s most important asset, our student body, in fall 2019, we launched the Labor Studies major, the first of its kind at the University of California and one of only a few nationwide. Built from the ground up and growing rapidly, the UCLA Labor Studies program is significant on the national academic scene because of the number of faculty and research projects devoted to work, workers, employment, and labor markets. Our classes bolster students’ research skills and community engagement with organizations that have a real and direct impact in the world.
In the best sense of the words, we undertake service and research that matters to workers in California. We serve this city and our many community partners, including nonprofit organizations, organized labor, elected officials, and our extended family of students and alumni.
As we approach the unprecedented challenges presented by the global pandemic, our mission and impact are more important than ever. The pandemic has stunted the economy and continues to ravage our country, disproportionately taking the lives of workers and people of color. A postpandemic recovery that is inclusive, that brings all workers into dignified, equitable, and safe work spaces is key to economic recovery in Los Angeles and California. We will remain steadfast in our research and programming, while also expanding our policy-driven research portfolio to create a more racially equitable economy that prioritizes the most vulnerable workers.
As the director of IRLE, I believe it is our obligation and responsibility to learn and continue to build from this challenging period. We will seize new research opportunities, explore new approaches to policy implementation that is fair and equitable, and partner with workers, think agents, policy makers, and advocates to address these new challenges and what we believe are some of the most intractable and important issues confronting workers and their families. Our responsibility at IRLE and as stewards of the University of California requires our full attention and knowledge base to make the labor of all workers a priority.
I look forward to working with all of you to make this vision a reality.
Abel Valenzuela Jr. is director of the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment and professor of labor studies, Chicano and Central American 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.