A symposium will be held today to give the UC Davis community a chance to learn how they can contribute to improved labor conditions in California. The symposium, sponsored by the Center for the Study of Regional Change, will take place from 1 to 5 p.m. at 1008 King.
A percentage of the workforce represented by unions has declined, and many people are currently feeling insecure about their employment, said Chris Benner, associate professor of the department of human and community development.
“We need to be exploring new models of labor organizing to help improve working conditions and employment opportunities,” he said. “There’s other ways besides having to bargain with a single employer.“
The first part of the symposium will focus on labor-community partnerships. Efforts to build these partnerships are made by many organizations that belong to a national network called Partnership for Working Families. Groups in these networks work to leverage public policies such as wage laws and environmental regulations.
The groups also work on labor agreements such as the Community Benefits Agreement, a contract that requires a developer to provide certain benefits to the community as part of the development project.
In exchange, the community groups promise to support the proposed project before government bodies that provide the necessary permits and subsidies, according to the Partnership for Working Families website.
The second part of the symposium will be focused on efforts to work with immigrant communities and people in marginalized employment, Benner said.
These communities include people on the sidewalk trying to get casual employment on a day-to-day basis and women doing cleaning work or childcare in people’s homes, he said.
“There are a lot of immigrant workers busing or sewing in garment industries – what are essentially sweatshops – and getting paid much less than minimum wage or not getting paid at all after a day’s work,” he said.
The immigrants don’t realize that even if they do not have legal documentation, he said, they are still protected by employment regulations, and employers are still required to pay minimum wage. The employers are also required to provide a safe workplace environment.
Labor groups are helping immigrants by educating them about what their rights are and by bringing legal cases against employers if employment rights are violated. They also help immigrants gain employment as independent contractors if they can’t be hired as employees.
“It becomes another way in which people can get the employment they need to survive without violating other laws,” Benner said.
The Center for the Study of Regional Change is holding the symposium to help the community learn lessons from organizations in other places that might be applied to areas in the Central Valley.
“It’s part of an effort to really expand research and teaching on campus regarding labor issues,” he said.
The Center for the Study of Regional Change is a new research center within the College of Agriculture and Environment Sciences, said Jonathan London, director of the Center for the Study of Regional Change.
“Its mission is to catalyze and conduct interdisciplinary research on pressing regional issues facing the Central Valley, Sierra Nevada, and other regions of the state, country and globe,” he said.
The center looks particularly at the intersections and relationships between land use, transportation, housing, population change and economic development, he said.
“The other element is that we work across the boundaries that keep the campus separate from the broader community,” London said. “We’re trying to be a promoter of campus-community partnership.“
The Center for the Study of Regional Change recently got funding for a variety of labor studies initiative. They received the grant from the University of California Miguel Contreras Labor Studies Program and are using it for the symposium, forums and classes to be offered to the UC Davis campus. There is a graduate course currently taught by Benner and assistant professor Natalia Deeb-Sossa.
The center is trying to be a resource to enhance both undergraduate and graduate education at UC Davis by helping to connect students with different issues, London said. Some opportunities for undergraduates to learn about labor issues are public talks and workshops.
By attending public talks and workshops to learn about labor issues, students can learn real world things that are not in books, he said.
“They can learn about who they’re going to help, who they’re going to be working with and what some of those challenges are,” London said. “Having a community connection is really important.“
For more information about the symposium or the Center for the Study of Regional Change, go to regionalchange.ucdavis.edu.
THUY TRAN can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org XXX