Shining Spotlight on Bogus U.C. Berkeley “Think Tank” During National Sunshine Week

This week is National Sunshine Week, a time when many journalists across America publish stories on government spending and transparency. One organization that needs more sunshine is the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment (IRLE) at the University of California at Berkeley, a union propaganda mill disguised as an academic think tank and financed with taxpayer dollars.

The IRLE receives money from the State of California to churn out shoddy and biased research timed to influence election results. It released two reports examining proposals to increase the minimum wage in San Francisco and Oakland before voters cast their ballots. Voters subsequently approved both wage hikes. The Oakland increase went into effect on March 2, a nearly 36 percent increase to $12.25 an hour. San Francisco’s hourly minimum wage increased to $11.05 on January 1, and will increase to $12.25 on May 1, matching Oakland’s rate.

Michael Saltsman, research director at the D.C.-based Employment Policies Institute, says the two IRLE reports provided misleading information before the voting:

The new minimum wage in Oakland also means unintended consequences for employees and higher costs for consumers. Oakland small businesses like Homestead, Caffee Teatro, Johu Beach Club, The Half Orange, and 475 Café report planned price hikes of up to 20 present. These hikes are significantly larger than the 2.5 percent figure predicted by the embattled U.C. Berkeley research team, whose study on the minimum-wage increase effects preceding last year’s vote predicted big gains and little-to-no pain from a hike to $12.25. This miscalculation follows a separate U.C. Berkeley study of San Francisco’s minimum wage that drastically underestimated the associated increase in labor costs, as evidenced by recent small business closures or near-closures. Such apparent mistakes mean that voters and policymakers should treat U.C. Berkeley minimum-wage studies with considerable skepticism, but such hindsight is of little solace now to Oakland’s small business community.

Shoddy, politically motivated research is nothing new for the IRLE. In 2003, Andrew Gloger and I were one of the first to expose the politically driven research agenda of the U.C. Institute for Labor and Employment (ILE), the U.C. umbrella group that coordinates these multi-campus propaganda mills of which the Berkeley IRLE is one. As we said in 2003:

The ILE has a right in a free society to promulgate its anti-capitalism views and to fund research that strikes at the heart of a basic economic freedom in America – the right of employers and employees to freely negotiate compensation. But why should taxpayers be forced to bankroll ILE’s union propaganda?

Unions collect roughly $880 million in dues each year in California. Surely they can spare $4 million to support the ILE on their own and unburden state taxpayers.

These words are as true today as when first written in 2003. The ILE received the California Golden Fleece Award in 2003 for ripping off taxpayers.

The ILE, the coordinating umbrella group, has since switched its name to the U.C. Miguel Contreras Labor Program, but it still carries the unions’ water (its board must include at all times at least two labor representatives), and it has received millions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies. Its primary role is to provide academic cover for the political agenda of unions and their allies.

Shining a spotlight on corrupt taxpayer-funded research is what Sunshine Week is about.

Lawrence J. McQuillan is a Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Entrepreneurial Innovation at the Independent Institute. He is the author of the Independent book, California Dreaming: Lessons on How to Resolve America’s Public Pension Crisis.
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