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UC San Diego Labor Center Appoints Its First Executive Director

Workers in various professions

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The UC San Diego Labor Center has appointed Satomi Rash-Zeigler as its first executive director. Rash-Zeigler will set the vision for the recently launched center and lead its strategic growth by fostering collaborations between faculty, students, workers and community organizations. 

The UC San Diego Labor Center is housed in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning in the School of Social Sciences and brings together scholars from various disciplines such as anthropology, ethnic studies, computer science, political science, economics and communication. It is one of nine such hubs of labor research, scholarship and policy work across UC campuses. 

In her 20-year career in the labor movement, Rash-Zeigler has championed among other things, employment opportunities with family-sustaining wages and benefits and expanded skills training opportunities for workers. She has advocated policies by centering the voice and experience of workers.

Satomi Rash-Zeigler
Satomi Rash-Zeigler has been named the first executive director of the UC San Diego Labor Center.
Photo credit: RZ Photography

Prior to joining the UC San Diego Labor Center, Rash-Zeigler served as managing director of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council.  She worked with the council’s 130 member organizations to create a strategic plan, set priorities, develop policy and raise funds. While at the council, she led from the ground up the creation of a hotel worker training program and a staffing agency focused on connecting workers with jobs that offer family-friendly benefits, flexibility and fair wages. She has worked with the California labor movement to establish groundbreaking leadership development programs and teaches within the labor studies program at San Diego City College.

Lilly Irani
Lilly Irani, faculty director of the UC San Diego Labor Center. Photo credit: Erik Jepsen/University Communications

Rash-Zeigler said her goal as executive director is to work with campus partners, elected representatives and community groups to address critical issues that working people face today and to advocate for achieving a better quality of life for workers, their families and communities.

"We want to build a region that recognizes and acknowledges our economy's greatest asset – workers,” Rash-Zeigler said. “By creating jobs with family- sustaining wages and benefits, we are investing in one of the largest drivers of our region's economic engine. My background and years of labor and community work in San Diego and Imperial counties has put us in a position to start the work immediately.” 

Rash-Zeigler will be responsible for leading the strategic growth of the center by building its capacity for research, policy analysis, education  and public-facing programming. One such program is Labor Summer, an initiative to develop the next generation of labor and community leaders, organizers and researchers. The program connects undergraduate and graduate students with labor and community organizations, and provides them opportunities for training and participation in community-engaged action research. 

“In addition to organizing experience, students will receive mentorship as well as leadership and professional development training,” Rash-Zeigler said. “They will become part of a UC-wide labor center network, a launch pad for labor-aligned jobs after graduation.” 

Rash-Zeigler will collaborate with faculty director Lilly Irani, associate professor of communication, to host the center’s first conference, focused on AI, slated to take place in the fall. The goal of the event is to educate workers, organizers, and policy makers about AI and enable them to learn about the impacts of AI on their work and their communities. 

“The idea is to build a foundation of knowledge for community folks, labor and students,” Irani said. “We want to bring them together to answer questions, inform them about issues that subject matter experts in AI have identified as areas of concern, and hear about the impacts they are seeing on the shop floor. There’s a lot of legislation coming to California to regulate AI and we want to make sure that workers’ voices are heard.” 

Another priority of the UC San Diego Labor Center is to advocate for workers in what has come to be known as Lithium Valley in the Salton Sea area of Imperial County. With its large reserves of lithium, a material essential to produce batteries that store clean energy and power electric vehicles, the region is poised to become a global leader in battery production. 

“The implications of it being mined in California in Imperial Valley is huge,” Irani said. “It’s potentially life changing for folks who live in the community. We want to make sure that communities and workers have the data they need to negotiate with strength for an economy that works for regular people.” 


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