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California state budget to include $13M for UC labor centers

The UCLA Labor Center is housed in the Peter V. Ueberroth building (pictured). The revised California state budget proposal allocates more funding for the UC labor centers and their research on worker justice. (Chelsea Rose Westman/Daily Bruin staff)

By Catherine Hamilton

Aug. 15, 2022 11:45 a.m.

The 2022-2023 California state budget will allocate $13 million to the University of California labor centers, allowing scholars to increase the extent of their research on working conditions and inequitable labor policies.

The new funding from the budget, released in May by Gov. Gavin Newsom, adds to the previous $3 million that the labor centers at UCLA and UC Berkeley each received last year, according to a UCLA press release. At UCLA, the funding will be used at the Labor Center, the Institute for Research on Labor Employment and the Labor Occupational Safety and Health Program, according to the press release.

Labor centers work with other community organizations to engage with students, faculty and researchers to understand how workers’ lives can be improved, said Abel Valenzuela, a UCLA professor and director of the institute.

The funding allocation came about through legislative efforts by organized labor groups and elected officials who aim to accommodate the growing number of students interested in labor studies, Valenzuela said.

Currently, only three UC campuses – UCLA, UC Berkeley and UC Merced – have established labor centers, said Kent Wong, director of the UCLA Labor Center, adding that the funding will also help open centers at every other UC except UC San Francisco.

“Here at UCLA, we have launched the very first labor studies major … in the history of the University of California,” Wong said. “In many ways, UCLA is really at the cutting edge, and it’s leading this statewide initiative.”

Recent UCLA labor research has explored the conditions of the carwash industry and the advancement of rights for noncitizens without legal permanent resident status. UCLA research also created Los Angeles’ first Black workers center in 2011, Wong said.

Additionally, labor centers aim to increase industry standards and diversify the workforce, said Hugo Romero, deputy political director for the LA County Federation of Labor. Labor centers emphasize research and policy recommendations for emerging conflicts, such as responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, he added.

The increased budget will help extend educational opportunities to underserved regions of California, Romero said. He added that new labor centers will be able to provide more hands-on experience for future researchers, labor educators, and nonprofit organizations.

Valenzuela said the increased funding will also allow researchers to go more in-depth into understanding racial disparities that may emerge in the workplace.

“Better understanding (of) what these inequities might be allows us to push back, to mitigate against, to intervene, to create legislation so that we can be better prepared to address some of the inequities that might be coming from an emerging economy,” Valenzuela said.

UCLA labor researchers are currently working on multiple large initiatives that will help advise the California Legislature on policy for a worker-centered economy, Wong said. He added these projects include research into the cannabis industry, young workers and the expansion of automation at the Port of LA.

The work done at UC labor centers has improved the lives of workers and their communities in California, Romero said, adding that many students’ lives are impacted either directly or through someone they know with their research.

“That this funding allows this type of programming to expand beyond UCLA and Berkeley is a beacon of hope for the millions of workers struggling to make ends meet,” he said.

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Catherine Hamilton | National news and higher education editor
Hamilton is the 2022-2023 national news and higher education beat editor. She was previously a national news contributor. She is also a second-year English and political science student.
Hamilton is the 2022-2023 national news and higher education beat editor. She was previously a national news contributor. She is also a second-year English and political science student.
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