UC Berkeley News
Press Release

UC Berkeley Press Release

Labor programs to link to noted labor leader, the late Miguel Contreras

– The University of California, Berkeley's Institute of Industrial Relations and Center for Labor Research and Education - along with their counterpart programs based at UCLA - will become affiliated with an umbrella virtual organization named for prominent state labor leader Miguel Contreras.

The UC Board of Regents' Subcommittee on Educational Policy today (Wednesday, Jan. 17) unanimously approved a proposal for the move. It was submitted by ex-officio UC Regent and State Assembly Speaker Fabian Nez (D-Los Angeles) in honor of Contreras, the former head of the 800,000-strong Los Angeles County Federation of Labor. Contreras died in 2005 at the age of 52.

During the Regents' meeting at UCSF's Mission Bay complex, union supporters, rank-and-file workers and others - including Contreras' widow and labor activist Maria Elena Durazo, spoke about the significant contributions of Contreras as well as of UC's labor studies. UC President Robert Dynes, an ex-officio member of the Regents, also spoke in support of affiliating the UC Berkeley and UCLA labor efforts with the Miguel Contreras Labor Program.

The full Board of Regents is set to act on the matter during a meeting tomorrow (Thursday, Jan. 18).

Contreras began union organizing at the age of 17 with the United Farmworkers Union, and became one of the most influential Latino leaders in Los Angeles. He also was a strong proponent of education, particularly for the children of low-income workers. Contreras mentored many aspiring political leaders, including Nez.

Last week, Gov. Schwarzenegger proposed to eliminate state budget funding for the UC Berkeley, UCLA and additional system-wide labor programs administered through the UC Office of the President for the fourth time in three straight years. He dropped a similar tact last year after strong opposition within political circles as well as within academia and the labor field.

Nez has predicted that the governor will reverse himself again and restore the funds. The UC Office of the President has also pledged to pursue continuation of state funding for the research programs, which represent the only labor research and education spending in the UC system.

University of California labor programs began 60 years ago when former UC President Clark Kerr founded and became the first director of the Institute of Industrial Relations at UC Berkeley. The same year, a similar institute was created at UCLA, and 20 years later, the Center for Labor Research and Education was established - one at each institute - to carry out service and outreach activities with union and community partners.

In 2000, new state budget appropriations of $6 million led to expanding existing programs at UC Berkeley and UCLA and established a statewide faculty research fund and financing for labor studies on all UC campuses. The funds are administered by the Office of the President.

In recent years, UC labor research has focused on employment trends, union density, health care policy, and job quality in immigrant and African American communities. Education programs have included leadership development programs for union leaders, and for women and people of color.