New Website Exposes Berkeley Labor Team for its Research Biases

Public records suggest Berkeley researchers are pursuing ideological goals rather than academic ones
  • Publication Date: September 2019

  • Topics: Minimum Wage

Washington D.C. – Today, the Employment Policies Institute (EPI) launched Biased Berkeley, which highlights the biases and lack of independence of a team of labor researchers at the University of California-Berkeley.

View the website here.

This team of researchers–comprised of members of Berkeley’s Center for Labor Research & Education (Labor Center) and the Center on Wage and Employment Dynamics (CWED)–are often treated as independent scholars providing a neutral point of view on wage- and labor-related policy debates. Biased Berkeley presents public records, funding data, and empirical research to document how the Berkeley team has worked closely with labor groups to promote research with conclusions that don’t match reality.

For instance:

  • Berkeley’s team has sought funding explicitly tied to promoting higher minimum wages. In the Bay Area, for instance, Berkeley’s Ken Jacobs sought financial support to provide “(technical assistance) work for local groups engaged in work to raise the minimum wage,” as well as “testimony/media work around the issue in the East Bay.”
  • In Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti’s staff approached the Berkeley team to produce a study demonstrating how a minimum wage “will help labor and the economy in general.” The Berkeley team reciprocated, turning in a report to meet the Mayor’s political goals. The research team was subsequently the source of controversy; after it was selected to conduct a supposedly-neutral analysis of a $15 minimum wage proposal, Councilmember Filipe Fuentes said: “the selection of U.C. Berkeley, by perception, compromises the possibility of a fair and balanced discussion.”
  • In Seattle, when a city-funded team of researchers were set to release a study critical of the city’s $15 minimum wage experiment, then-Mayor Ed Murray approached the Berkeley team about producing a competing study. As the city’s alt-weekly magazine wrote at the time, “The City Knew The Bad Minimum Wage Report Was Coming Out, So It Called Up Berkeley.” Berkeley’s Michael Reich was given a political timetable to meet, and coordinated with the Mayor’s press shop to ensure maximum visibility.
The Berkeley team’s universally-favorable conclusions about a higher minimum wage–the team was unable to identify an instance where they had released a critical report on the topic–clashes with empirical reality. This summer, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office released a report on the impacts of a $15 federal minimum wage, concluding that the policy would cost between 1.3 million and 3.7 million jobs nationwide.

“This research has exposed the Berkeley Labor Team for what they really are – a labor aligned group masquerading around as a neutral academic research center,” said Samantha Summers, Communications Director for the Employment Policies Institute. “State and local lawmakers must consider the biased agenda of the Labor Center before enacting policies that could kill thousands of jobs.”