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The Urbanization of Trade Union Struggle and Strategy

By Ian Thomas MacDonald

This is an abridged excerpt from Ian Thomas MacDonald’s new book, Unions and the City.

Many in labor studies have come to see our cities and suburbs as great laboratories of labor renewal. The relevance of this perspective can be glimpsed in the importance of resisting the dismantling of public education to the fate of a teacher strike in Chicago, for instance, or in the equally surprising success of citywide minimum wage campaigns across the United States. But these inspiring moments only hint at organized labor’s daily engagement with the life of the city, which we have found to be broader, deeper, and more complex than is commonly recognized. If we are right to believe that the future of the labor movement is an urban one, union activists and staffers, urban policymakers, elected officials, and members of the public alike will require a fuller understanding of what impels unions to become involved in urban policy issues, what dilemmas structure the choices unions make, and what impact unions have on the lives of urban residents, beyond their members.  Continue reading The Urbanization of Trade Union Struggle and Strategy

Introducing: 2017 Diversity Scholarship Recipients

In ceremonies held last month at the CUNY Graduate Center Elebash Recital Hall, a total of six students were awarded The Murphy Institute 2017 Diversity in Labor Scholarship.  The scholarships are made possible through donations from unions, businesses, and individuals, along with a matching grant from the CUNY Chancellery. 

Get to know a bit about this year’s scholarship recipients below. Congratulations to all!

Xhoana Ahmeti
New York City, NY

L-R_Janet Leslie/Staff, JSMI; Xhoana Ana Ahmeti/Scholarship Recipient; Arthur Cheliotes/President, CWA, Local 1180.
5th Annual Joseph S. Murphy Scholarship for Diversty in Labor, Reception & Awards, Thursday, May 25, 2017, at CUNY Graduate Center.

Xhoana Ahmeti is an entering graduate student pursuing her MA in Labor Studies. Coming to the U.S. from Albania, Ahmeti’s parents found work in service and hospitality jobs. Ahmeti went on to become a first-generation college graduate, earning her B.A. in Public Policy Studies and Geography with minor concentrations in Economics and Environmental Sciences and graduating magna cum laude from DePaul University. 

In 2016, Ahmeti participated in Murphy’s Union Semester program and completed an internship in the Political Department of the Property Service Workers Union, SEIU 32BJ, raising her interest in labor policies. It was then that she developed a new understanding of the challenges facing women in the male-dominated skills construction trades. She was thereby inspired to co-found the Caucus Against Sexist Oppression (CASO), a fledgling non-profit organization that supports women as they move into the skilled trades sector.

This spring Ahmeti is enrolled in a pre-apprenticeship program with Nontraditional Employment for Women (NEW-NYC) while attending classes at the Brooklyn Institute of Social Research. Concurrently, she volunteers with the Retail Action Project (RAP) of RWDSU, where she works alongside a team of organizers on emerging nationwide union campaign efforts. She aspires to one day become a journey-level electrician.

Maria Sol Aramendi
Long Island City, NY

L-R_Janet Leslie/Staff, JSMI; Maria Sol Aramendi/Scholarship Recipient.
5th Annual Joseph S. Murphy Scholarship for Diversty in Labor, Reception & Awards, Thursday, May 25, 2017, at CUNY Graduate Center.

Maria Sol Aramendi will enter the Murphy Institute’s M.A. program in Labor Studies this fall. Aramendi received the Albert Neumann Award, named in honor of an educator and writer who died in Auschwitz. Born in Argentina, Aramendi earned her B.A. in Architecture from Universidad Nacional de Rosario in Santa Fe, Argentina and a Master of Fine Arts with a concentration in Studio Arts from CUNY’s Queens College. Her road to labor studies began with the arts and has progressed with the realization that her instincts drive collaborative engagement or, as she puts it: “a cross-pollination of the arts, law, immigration, and labor.”

Aramendi’s arts program, Project Luz, is a result of this multidisciplinary and collaborative approach, providing Spanish-language platforms for Latino immigrants to express themselves while navigating social and economic realities. Aramendi refers to herself as “a social practice artist,” and Project Luz is offered under the auspices of six institutions and organizations in the metropolitan area, including the Museum of Modern Art and the Queens Museum.

Over the years, Aramendi has worked for New Immigrant Community Empowerment, an organization providing legal services for jornaleros—or day laborers. She has collaborated with the National Day Laborer Network and the Standing Up for Dignity: Women Day Laborers in Brooklyn Project. In concert with the National Domestic Workers Alliance, she formulated an Immigrant Workers Dignity Workshop, and, with the Blade of Grass Foundation, received a fellowship to help develop a smartphone app to assist day laborers track their day-to-day workloads, a project that received attention from The New York Times.

Bianca Lynn Garcia
Brooklyn, NY

L-R_James Steele/Faculty, JSMI; Bianca Garcia/Scholarship Recipient.
5th Annual Joseph S. Murphy Scholarship for Diversity in Labor, Reception & Awards, Thursday, May 25, 2017, at CUNY Graduate Center.

An entering graduate student in Labor Studies, Bianca Lynn Garcia earned her B.A. in History from Columbia University, where her research centered on the science of mass mobilization and strategic nonviolent disobedience. This spring, she was presented Murphy’s Morton Bahr Award, named for one of the world’s most influential union leaders and worker education activists.

Garcia, who has deep roots in her African American and Dominican culture, joined the staff of UNITE HERE in 2014, serving as site coordinator for the organization’s summer internship program, Organizing Beyond Barriers. Today, she is a Senior Research Analyst at UNITE HERE and is on track to lead UNITE HERE’s Airport Group.

Garcia has strong research skills, learned in the classroom and on the job, and leading to her capabilities as a strategist in political engagement and worker mobilization. Her expansive knowledge of community-based and global public sector practices also led her to initiate a collaborative campaign between UNITE HERE and a public sector union in Greece, resulting in a published study: A Look at the Privatization of Greece’s Fourteen Regional Airports: An Analysis of European Competition Policy.

Jorge Maldonado
Flushing, NY

Jorge Maldonado/Scholarship Recipient.
5th Annual Joseph S. Murphy Scholarship for Diversty in Labor, Reception & Awards, Thursday, May 25, 2017, at CUNY Graduate Center.

Jorge Maldonado earned his B.A. degree with a double major in Sociology and Psychology at New York University’s College of Arts and Science on a full scholarship, and will enter the M.A. program in Labor Studies this fall. Maldonado, who was born in Ecuador, credits his parents for encouraging his academic progress as well as civic-mindedness. Growing up, he participated in a number of community-based, grassroots, and nonprofit organizations including, Palisades Park Board of Education and Community Food Advocates, which provided outreach to the community under the auspices of the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA).

As an undergraduate, Maldonado immersed himself in campus activities, including the NYU-John Jos Lab for Social Justice, helping to conduct theoretical research on political behaviors. A star athlete, he competed in track and field, while serving as senior captain of the Men’s Cross Country Track & Field Team and working for the NYU Athletics Department. In his senior year, in addition to setting his personal-best in the 10,000m, he became a founding member of NYU’s Democratic Socialists of America Chapter with the goal of developing strategies for expanding social justice, political education, and on-campus activism.

Maldonado’s scholarly interests center on comparative research on labor movements in the U.S. and Latin America. He hopes ultimately to pursue a PhD in Sociology in order to “analyze the barriers presently facing labor and eventually develop proposals on how to overcome them,” while, he explained, he also “want[s] to remain active in politics and contribute to grassroots organizing.”

Onieka O’Kieffe
Brooklyn, NY

L-R_James Steele/Faculty, JSMI; Onieka O’kieffe/Scholarship Recipient.
5th Annual Joseph S. Murphy Scholarship for Diversty in Labor, Reception & Awards, Thursday, May 25, 2017, at CUNY Graduate Center.

Onieka O’Kieffe is the recipient of a $30,000 Murphy Institute Diversity in Labor Scholarship, supporting her studies toward an M.A. in Labor Studies at The Joseph S. Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies. She completed her B.A. in Urban and Community Studies this spring at The Murphy Institute,.

O’Kieffe was spurred to activism after an episode at a former job revealed a policy of discriminatory employee credit checks. Resolved to protect fellow workers, she participated in a Retail Action Project workshop offered by the Retail, Wholesale & Department Store Union (RWDSU) at The Murphy Institute, after which she worked with the New Economy Project, serving as a lead surveyor for CUNY’s in-depth research study about unfair retailer practices. The study and companion survey resulted in “Short Shifted,” a 2014 report about the NYC retail industry. Today, she continues as an activist and media spokesperson for RWDSU today, appearing on CNN’s Situation Room and testifying before the City Council of New York. She played a key role in the passage of legislation to amend the City’s Human Rights Law, making the request or use of an applicant’s credit history unlawful in employment decisions, and now serves on the Board of the Center for Frontline Retail.

Cyprian Springer
Brooklyn, NY

L-R_Janet Leslie/Staff, JSMI; Arthur Cheliotes/President, CWA, Local 1180; Henry Garrido/Executive Director, DC 37; Cyprian Springer/Scholarship Recipient.
5th Annual Joseph S. Murphy Scholarship for Diversty in Labor, Reception & Awards, Thursday, May 25, 2017, at CUNY Graduate Center.

Cyprian Springer is the recipient of a $20,000 2017 Diversity in Labor Scholarship / 1199WEIU Basil Paterson Scholarship Award toward his undergraduate studies at Murphy.  He will begin his studies toward a B.A. in Urban and Community Studies with a concentration in Labor Studies this fall. 

Springer, an active member of Local 375 of District Council 37, The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), was recently elected as a delegate for the Civil Service Technical Guild, Local 375. Despite his workload and union responsibilities, he is determined to balance a full undergraduate course load. Dr. Janet Leslie, Coordinator of the Murphy Institute Scholarship program, noted that the selection committee was impressed by Mr. Springer’s application including his strong statement that “quality work creates quality living.”

Sweden’s School Choice Disaster

By Dyckman Welcome

Data suggests that public education is most effective when parents, teachers, students and school administrators collaborate to focus on the individual needs of a child. A one-size-fits-all model of educating and measuring student achievement works well for some children, but leaves others desperately seeking public education alternatives.

One alternative to the current system of public education fueling political debate is the expansion of school choice through school voucher programs. According to supporters, implementation of voucher programs would create a market driven system that improves educational standards benefiting all of America’s children.  The problem is, the school voucher system has been implemented in other parts of the world, and failed, even as it appeared to initially succeed. Continue reading Sweden’s School Choice Disaster

Supreme Court Won’t Weigh in on Age Discrimination in Hiring Practices

Amid the shockwaves from the Supreme Court yesterday — in particular the decision to allow parts of President Trump’s travel ban to go into effect until the court hears arguments this fall — came a decision that got notably less attention. The court has decided not to hear a case involving age-discrimination, allowing a lower court ruling to stand. From a ProPublica article in March:

For the past half century, federal law has banned employers from discriminating against people based on their age. But since the early 1990s, corporate lawyers and conservative judges have sought to shrink what counts as discrimination, making it substantially harder to prove age bias. […]

The case involves an Atlanta man named Richard Villarreal, who applied online for a sales manager job with R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. in 2007 and heard nothing. When he applied in subsequent years, he had no better luck.

What Villarreal, who was 49 at the time of his first application, didn’t know was that Reynolds had retained a subcontractor to review the applications, supplying guidelines that led reviewers to discard his resume and those of almost 20,000 other older applicants. Of the roughly 1,000 sales managers the tobacco company hired between 2007 and 2010, when Villarreal was applying, fewer than a score were over the age of 40. After a whistleblower emerged in 2010, Villarreal sued.

The significance of the case is two-fold. It highlights the hurdles for job seekers as hiring has increasingly moved online, where it’s easier for companies to reject whole classes of applicants and harder for people to keep track of their bids for work. And it illustrates how age discrimination protections have been progressively narrowed. The tobacco company’s defense challenges decades of precedent for how the law has been interpreted and enforced. Continue reading Supreme Court Won’t Weigh in on Age Discrimination in Hiring Practices

New Labor Forum Highlights: June 26th, 2017

The New Labor Forum has launched a bi-weekly newsletter on current topics in labor, curated by the some of the most insightful scholars and activists in the labor world today. Check out some highlights from the latest edition below.

As summer heats up, even those of us in the northern hemisphere can’t help but ponder the perils of climate change. This crisis should be a top issue for the U.S. labor movement. Yet unified action by organized labor to protect our planet remains constrained by narrow notions of worker self-interest and of solidarity, as well as by public policy that disregards the need for a “just transition” to sustainable energy. Today’s Highlights includes New Labor Forum columnist Sean Sweeney speaking at this year’s People’s Summit in Chicago, arguing for an independent worker’s voice on climate.

We’re also proud to call attention to Climate Solidarity: Workers vs. Warming, a brand new e-book by New Labor Forum Contributing Editor Jeremy Brecher. We have posted a chapter of the book to our website, and the entire book is available for free download. It’s full of insight regarding the practical and ideological obstacles to concerted work within unions to combat climate change, as well as strategic thinking on energizing labor’s climate protection work.

Committed climate activist Naomi Klein’s new book, No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need, notable in part for coming out so quickly after the elections, is reviewed by Hari Kunzru (The Guardian), and we include that here. The book is a clarion call for a politics that accentuates what movements are working towards, rather than what they merely oppose.

Lastly, we’re sharing an article from Wired by Nick Stockton about dogged legal efforts to delay and obstruct the Trump Administration’s environmental efforts.

Table of Contents

  1. Winning Clean Energy & Climate Justice for All / Sean Sweeney, New Labor Forum
  2. Climate Solidarity: Workers vs. Warming / Jeremy Brecher
  3. No Is Not Enough by Naomi Klein (Book Review) / Hari Kunzru, The Guardian  
  4. The Grizzled, Stubborn Lawyers Protecting the Environment From Trump / Nick Stockton, Wired Magazine 

Photo by Jonathan Potts via flickr (CC-BY-NC-ND)

New Labor Forum Highlights: June 12th, 2017

The New Labor Forum has launched a bi-weekly newsletter on current topics in labor, curated by the some of the most insightful scholars and activists in the labor world today. Check out some highlights from the latest edition below.

With this installment of Highlights from New Labor Forum, we draw your attention to a roundup of notable books and films you might have missed. We’re grateful to NLF contributor Matt Witt for his excellent curatorial skills, which are a regular feature of his “Out of the Mainstream” for the print journal! Among the books Witt points to in his forthcoming inventory is Look, an arresting book of poetry by Solmaz Sharif. Born in Istanbul to Iranian parents, Sharif is a former participant in Poetry for the People, and arts/activism program founded at UC Berkeley by the late, great poet June Jordan. The sampling of her work included here, offers precise and unforgettable depictions of the dread brought about by our wars on terror.

Table of Contents

  1. Out of the Mainstream: Books and Films You May Have Missed by Matt Witt / New Labor Forum, September 2017 issue
  2. Poems by Solmaz Sharif