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A closer look: Staff of UC labor institute may lose jobs

By Christian Mignot

Jan. 13, 2004 9:00 p.m.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 2004-2005 budget proposal may
be a difficult pill to swallow for students worried about paying
higher student fees.

But a tough situation also faces the staff and council members
of the UCLA-based University of California Institute of Labor and
Employment, who may lose their jobs after Friday’s budget
proposal recommended cutting all state funding to the
organization.

If approved, the cut would trickle down to the UCLA and UC
Berkeley Labor Centers, which tap a combined 40 percent of ILE
funds to keep programs, classes, outreach efforts and the
center’s publications afloat.

And while the UC system is home to numerous research units
across a variety of fields, the ILE is the only institute to have
been dealt a full strength blow with all funding being scaled
back.

Such circumstances have prompted ILE director Ruth Milkman to
speculate the targeting of the institute is politically
motivated.

“I feel that we have been unfairly singled out,” she
said.

“I recognize that the fiscal crisis is serious, and I
think everyone should feel the pain of the cuts, but I don’t
think we should be completely eliminated,” she added.

Milkman said the governor’s budget seemed to target the
Institute for the type of research conducted, citing the situation
as “an academic freedom issue.”

Kent Wong, director of the UCLA Labor Center and a member of the
ILE governing council, was more explicit.

“We think (Gov. Schwarzenegger) is getting bad advice from
people who are politically motivated to eliminate programs such as
minority outreach and those that target workers and working
people,” he said.

Such programs clash with the “strong pro-business
bias” of conservative forces in Sacramento, Wong said.

“They believe anything that interferes with conservative
agenda should not be funded,” he added.

Jeannie Oropeza, program budget manager for education systems
for the California Department of Finance, did not respond to claims
the proposed cut was politically motivated.

“I think other research projects had been targeted in
previous years’ budgets, and this year they have targeted
(ILE),” she said.

But regardless of the motivation, Milkman said the ILE would not
survive without government funding if the cuts were to carry
through.

“Any money we raise from foundations or private sources
would not be enough to support the infrastructure of our
organization,” she said.

In the meantime, 25 staff members occupying positions with the
ILE find themselves not knowing how long they will be employed for,
while programs started earlier in the academic year have been
placed on hold.

Members of the governing council are also appealing for support
from various sources statewide in an effort to restore ILE’s
funding on the 2004-2005 budget.

Wong said members met with labor union representatives and state
legislators Monday in Sacramento, but were unable to speak directly
with the Governor.

“Many have pledged they will work aggressively to have us
reinstated, although there is no guarantee funding will be
restored,” he said.

Even though the UCLA Labor Center would survive the potential
cut, Wong said it would lose 75 percent of its funding, resulting
in a drastic scaling back of all publications, activities and
service to the community.

The Institute for Labor and Employment was formed in 2000 to
complement the existing labor centers at UCLA and UCB, with its
main goal being to expand labor research.

Topics studied over the last few years have included looking
into the healthcare needs of workers statewide, exploring living
wage issues, and determining the impact of major legislative
decisions on workers and their families.

Funding was initially $6 million per year, but budget woes
resulted in that amount being reduced to $4 million in the last two
years.

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Christian Mignot
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