CRLA's Partnership with UC Santa Cruz

CRLA is committed to fighting for justice for all rural workers, and we pride ourselves on being responsive to the evolving needs of our client communities.  The economic engine of many communities in rural California has shifted from agriculture to tourism, hospitality or other low-wage jobs.  Finding data that demonstrated this shift proved to be near impossible. CRLA began working with academic institutions to capture this information.  Gretchen Regenhardt, our Regional Director based in Watsonville initially worked with the Public Interest and Legal Aid to Rural Communities program out of UC Hastings College of Law to launch a survey of low-wage workers in Santa Cruz County.  This proved highly successful and in 2013 Gretchen took the work one step further by starting an innovative partnership with two world renowned research centers based out of University of California Santa Cruz:  The Center for Labor Studies and the Chicano Latino Research Center.  

With help from the Chicano-Latino Research Center, the Center for Labor Studies, led by Dr. Steve Mc Kay began a census of the invisible – training UCSC undergraduate students, many of whom were Spanish speakers, to interview workers using a survey designed to capture conditions in the workplace.  The data collection included about 1300 low-wage workers. Additionally, in-depth interviews were conducted, capturing the worker’s individual stories – creating a full picture of what workers face.  The worker’s narratives were used to create digital stories and portraits of the workers –to give a voice to people who are often rendered voiceless.  UCSC students provided data analysis that will be used by CRLA  and service providers to ensure that low-wage workers are getting the services and support that will meet their needs.  Additionally, engaging the students was a profound exercise bridging the gap between academia and real world struggles.  Some of the students had never had a conversation with a low-wage worker, while others of the students found the workers stories reflected their own experience and that of their families.   “It was one of the greatest experiences of my life,” said UCSC student Nicholas Martinez.

On May 7th, the workers’ stories, the data, amazing photos and testimonials by participants took place at a very special event at the Museum of Art and History in Santa Cruz.  The rich material is also available on a website, where you can learn more about this wonderful project.  “Working with Steve and his team was a great way for CRLA to extend our reach into the community, and to get real-time, impactful data about our client communities’ changing struggles,” said Gretchen.



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