Center for Labor and Community opens on UC Santa Cruz campus

The new center is one of six sites that will advance timely labor research, expand labor education programs, and support worker health initiatives across UC

Students conducting labor research.
UC Santa Cruz students doing research on regional labor and employment issues as part of the new Center for Labor and Community. (Photo credit: Steve McKay)

Scholars studying the economic and social impacts of a variety of labor and employment issues facing workers in Santa Cruz and the Monterey Bay Area just announced the opening of a new center on campus that will provide timely and policy-relevant labor research, will educate the next generation of labor and community leaders and will advance labor, community, and occupational health initiatives. 

The Center for Labor and Community will be modeled after existing centers at UCLA, UC Berkeley, and UC Merced and builds upon previous efforts on campus dedicated to studying low-wage work, the affordable housing crisis, and the challenges of the rapidly-changing economy. The new center, housed in the Institute for Social Transformation, aims to build the power of working people in Santa Cruz County and beyond by promoting, defending, and expanding workers’ rights. Through research, advocacy, policy innovation, education, and outreach, the center supports unions, worker organizations, and community groups in their efforts to build a fair and racially just worker-centered economy. In addition, the center will create an advisory board and work with local labor councils to develop timely research initiatives.

“We are excited to finally have this space on our campus because we’ve known for years that workers and communities in our region struggle for justice and dignity across a broad range of issues,” said Steve McKay, associate professor of sociology and the faculty director at the new center. “Now, more than ever, we need to ensure that local workers’ and community living conditions are part of the statewide economic recovery conversation.”

The funding for the new center at UC Santa Cruz was formed as part of a historic allocation in California’s 2022-23 budget passed last summer. The budget included $13 million to expand such programs across the University of California. UC Santa Cruz received $500,000 this year for its campus site. 

At UCSC, this funding also will expand undergraduate labor education by providing educational opportunities for students to be involved in labor and community-based research, as well as to serve local labor and community organizations through paid summer internships. 

“We’re excited to launch a new program, Labor Summer, that will support up to 10 UC Santa Cruz undergraduates with stipends of $5,000 each, connecting them directly to labor and community organizations for an 8-week immersive and hands-on internship,” said Chris Benner, one of the center’s faculty founders.

Similar efforts to open new labor centers are underway at UC Davis, UC Irvine, UC Riverside, and UC Irvine. Similar centers are under discussion at UC Santa Barbara and UC San Diego. The allocation represents the single largest budget increase to UC labor centers since the creation of the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment in 1946 and the founding of the UCLA and UC Berkeley Labor Centers in 1964. 

This funding was made possible through the collaborative efforts of the California Labor Federation, key labor unions throughout the state, and elected officials, including California State Sen. María Elena Durazo (D-Los Angeles), Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood), Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) and Assemblymember Mike Fong (D-Los Angeles). 

You can learn more about the UCSC Center for Labor and Community by visiting: