New labor centers launch on five UC campuses

UC Berkeley Labor Center

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

Scholars investigating 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 the Labor Centers could not come at a better time,“ said Brenda Muñoz, deputy chair of the UC Berkeley Labor Center. “We are seeing a resurgence of union activity across the country, increased public support of unions and renewed interest for labor studies throughout the University of California.”

The $13 million new funding for the labor centers provided in the state budget last year 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 students 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.

This statewide growth comes at a time of increased challenges for workers. The UC Merced Community and Labor Center 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 21st 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 of 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 state-level elected officials including Senator 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 Sen. Durazo.

Existing and new labor centers house nationally-recognized staff 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, wage theft, immigrant and Black workers, labor history, and workplace occupational safety and health, among many other topics.