A coalition of foundations and union front groups is funding an academic post at the University of California at Berkeley for a prominent labor activist, according to documents obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

Saru Jayaraman, executive director of the Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC), a worker center that aims to organize food service employees, founded Berkeley’s Food Labor Research Center in 2012. The center, which is sponsored by the university’s Labor Research Center, conducts research into working conditions and public policy as it relates to the food business.

According to a proposal outlining the project, Jayaraman’s vision of the center was as political as it was academic. She hoped to use the center to produce studies that would bolster the Food Chain Workers Alliance (FCWA), a coalition of unions and labor activists. ROC is a member of that group.

“In order to address the pressing information needs of this movement, the FCWA is proposing the creation of the nation’s first Food Labor Institute,” she said in a proposal emailed to Berkeley staffers in October 2011. “Our Food Labor Institute would conduct and coordinate research and policy analysis […] as a way to inform these growing campaigns, as well as policymakers, the press, and the public.”

Berkeley professor Steven Pitts, a member of ROC’s board of directors, worried that the center would be “a potential resource drain on the Labor Center budget” and could create a conflict of interest.

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