In the dining hall where she worked even before her first day of classes at UCLA, Rosemarie Molina felt at home with the dishwashers and cooks who went on strike within her first week of employment.
The dining hall job gave Molina her first taste of the struggle for labor rights, which she said would come to define her college experience. Her interest led her to work with day laborers through UCLA’s Community Programs Office, where she heard about the UCLA Labor Center and its role in the labor movement.
“A working-class background, that’s a part of who I am,” said Molina, now a full-time labor organizer with the Community Labor Environmental Action Network Carwash Campaign, who graduated from UCLA in 2009. “If it wasn’t for the Labor Center, I wouldn’t be an organizer right now.”
After former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger completely removed all state funding – about $6 million – from statewide UC labor programs in 2008, the center struggled to survive, maintaining its programs due in large part to private grants.
The UCLA Labor Center is responsible for conducting research on labor issues and providing educational resources for students and the public. Some of its major projects include several research initiatives run through its Dream Resource Center, which focuses on undocumented student issues, said Kent Wong, director of the UCLA Labor Center.
When Gov. Jerry Brown signed the new state budget in mid-June, he allocated $2 million in annual funding for the UC’s labor programs, which encompass the UCLA and UC Berkeley labor centers. The $2 million annual allocation is in addition to $2 million previously allocated to the labor programs by the state legislature in 2009 in response to Schwarzenegger’s cuts.
Schwarzenegger gradually cut back all state funding for the center during his term as governor, Wong said. He added that state senators sympathetic to the labor center’s cause, including state senators Kevin De León (D–Los Angeles) and Darrell Steinberg (D–Sacramento), have worked to restore the center’s funding.
“(The cuts) meant we had to do aggressive external funding since we had no foundational funding … it was a huge challenge for our staff because they basically had to raise the funds for their own salaries,” said Wong.
Wong said the center’s primary sources of external funding, in lieu of regular government allocations, have been private grants from funding bodies such as the Ford Foundation, the California Endowment and the Rosenberg Foundation. These organizations provide funding for non-profits that have a successful track record of service to the public, Wong said.
Most of the center’s private funding goes to research initiatives, and the center is still deciding how it wants to spend its latest funding allocation, said Stefanie Ritoper, UCLA Labor Center communications director.
Molina said she thinks state funding for the labor center is crucial because so much of the labor organizing she did as an undergraduate was directly supported by research conducted by the center.
“To lose the labor center is to lose a part of the labor movement. You can’t put together a campaign and go against an industry without doing the necessary research,” Molina said.
Molina said that the research opportunities she was able to take advantage of as an undergraduate with labor center staff helped shape her into the labor organizer she is today.
The summer after her junior year, Molina took a study abroad trip to Mexico to do research on the effects of the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement in Los Angeles and fulfill a requirement for her global studies major.
The professor leading the trip, Janna Shadduck-Hernández, was also a program manager for the UCLA Labor Center and soon became Molina’s mentor. Molina said that Shadduck-Hernández has guided her in her efforts to uphold worker rights within the labor movement in Los Angeles.
“The Labor Center allowed me to fuse my academic experiences with my personal background to become an agent of social change,” Molina said.
After graduating from UCLA, Molina went on to work as a labor organizer for the CLEAN Carwash Campaign. The campaign is spearheaded by the Labor Center and addresses employer violations of labor laws and carwash worker rights.
Since Molina graduated, the UCLA Labor Center has worked to unite local unions and community organizations, such as the Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance, into coalitions that work to maintain health and safety codes and protect workers from wage theft.
“There wouldn’t be a CLEAN Carwash Campaign without the research conducted by students through the labor center,” Molina said. “When you are a part of and live within the L.A. working-class community, the labor center is a big deal.”