Category Archives: Student Work

Dial-an-Organizer: Using Storytelling and Emotion to Build Movements

By Kressent Pottenger

Imagine: you call a hotline to complain about how you were fired for being pregnant or harassed by your manager. On the other end, an operator gives you advice on organizing and labor law.

It sounds unlikely today, but in the 1970s, a group of women clerical workers, frustrated with their treatment, developed and achieved success with these non-traditional methods of organizing.

Migrating from the unpaid labor of the home to wage labor in the office, women workers needed a safe way to confide the humiliations and degradation they were experiencing in their offices. The working women’s group 9to5 therefore developed the “9to5 Job Survival Hotline,” which functioned much like hotlines for domestic abuse or suicide. This private hotline allowed women workers to call, anonymously, describe their grievances in what was at times embarrassing detail, and determine how to push back. 9to5 thereby created a safe space via phone for women workers to call and speak about what they endured on the job, and learn what course of action to take next. Continue reading Dial-an-Organizer: Using Storytelling and Emotion to Build Movements

Reflections from the Verizon Strike

After 45 days on strike, nearly 40,000 Verizon workers have agreed to head back to work. Having reached a tentative agreement with the communications giant, the workers state that they have achieved their goals: raising working families’ standard of living, creating over 1,300 new union jobs and achieving a first contract for retail store workers.

The largest strike in recent history, this Communications Workers of America (CWA) action marks a significant display of the strength of collective action.

During the strike, the company scrambled to fill positions with non-unionized and non-specialized personnel. Workers and their allies engaged in frequent rallies and demonstrations, holding space and making their position known. In the end, it more than paid off: besides winning the workers a raise, reversing cutbacks and creating jobs, the successful strike asserted the importance of workers in making communications infrastructure work, and re-asserted the role that organized labor can play in securing rights for workers.

Before the settlement was announced, CWA Local 1101 member, Verizon Striker and Murphy Alum (Cornell-CUNY Labor Relations Certificate, 2014) Christopher Vilardo shared this statement with the blog:

Here we are, over 10 months from when negotiations began and only one thing has changed: we are on the street. Continue reading Reflections from the Verizon Strike

Photos: Workers, Technology & Uber: A Student-Organized Panel

By Stacey Payton

As the ‘sharing economy’ grows, so does the level of precarious work, which shifts the risks and burden to the worker, but none of the benefits. The digital tools used in these emerging economies are paving the way for future automation. Will this lead to the eventual erasure of the worker?

Each year, the Murphy Institute hosts a student-organized forum, held at Murphy during the spring semester and arranged by the Urban Studies and Labor Studies departments. The purpose of the forum is to give students an opportunity to apply the lessons being taught in our curriculum to our everyday lives.

This year, our team of students decided to focus on how changes in technology are having direct effects on worker, specifically drivers of the car service Uber. We sought to explore the ways this company is taking advantage of workers and the very communities it claims to be servicing.

The forum, called Reworking Labor: The Case of Uber and the Gig Economy, was held on April 4, 2016 and attended by over 90 faculty, classmates and community members. We’re extremely grateful to our all-star panel for challenging our ideas and expanding our understanding of the current landscape. Many thanks to:


Stacey Payton is a current student in the MA in Labor Studies program at the Murphy Institute.

Labor Studies Student Capstone Presentations


Cordially invites you to the


RSVP: Irene.Garcia-Mathes[at]cuny[dot]edu

May 4rd, 2016, 6:15-8:45, Rm. 18A

Jaime Alvarado:

“Corporate Neoliberalism: Uber and the Migration of Taxi Drivers”

Daniel Gorman:

“Pray for the dead, and fight like hell for the living:
Purposeful Violence in Mining Labor Disputes”

Wilfredo Rivera:

“Invest in your Librarians: An Open Thesis to NYPL President Tony Marx”

Tamara Robinson:

“The Union Case for Labor- Management Partnerships: An Internal Organizing Strategy for Health Care Unions”

Zachary Smith:

“Help Wanted: Whole Unions for Whole Workers for a New Labor Movement”

May 11th, 2016, 6:15-8:45, Rm. 18A

Alyssa Bonilla:

“Labor Values: Defining the Core Values of the American Labor Movement”

Sheryl Calderon:

“Captive Labor”

Erin Stalnaker:

“The Role of Settler Colonialism in the Formation of the Working Class in North America”

Jeannie Thai:

“Leading, Tweeting and Following: Digitally Engaging The Fight For 15”

Wycliffe Walcott:

“Up in the AIRR: The controversy over the push for corporate control of the U.S. Air Traffic Control System”

Becoming a Labor Activist: A Student’s Story

By Mohammad Amin

Dhaka Roots

Growing up in the overcrowded capital of Bangladesh, Dhaka, I learned how to live and work for others. Dhaka is rife with inequality and disorder. A few possess wealth and power; while many bear all the burdens of rapid urbanization, political instability, poverty, and socio-economic inequality. One insight into this rampant inequality is apparent on the roads. Only five percent of people own a private car, yet these cars obstruct the city streets, which are already narrow for the overpopulated city, leaving the other ninety-five percent of the population to wait in overloaded public transit centers. Even as a young high school student, I saw firsthand the devastating inequality and injustice in that city.

After high school graduation, I was fortunate to be accepted into the University of Dhaka, where the admissions ratio is almost 1 is to 80. Providing almost free tuition for higher education, the university hosts some of the most talented students and scholars who come from every social status and geographic areas of the country. As the oldest university in the country, it also sits in the heart of Bangladeshi culture, politics, and socioeconomic mobility. Continue reading Becoming a Labor Activist: A Student’s Story

I am a #YoungWorker: A New Report

This month, the UCLA Labor Center and the Young Workers Project released a new report about young workers in the United States. Called “I am a #YOUNGWORKER,” the report is “a collective and participatory endeavor,” and involved the work of 60 students and young workers, including Murphy Institute student Mohammad Amin, who served as part of the Report Development Team.

A striking document, the report highlights the important —and precarious — role young workers play in local economies. It begins:

Young workers are an essential part of the workforce who contribute substantially to local economies. But in cities like Los Angeles, the soaring cost of living means that making ends meet can be especially difficult for young workers. They earn less than previous generations, face higher education costs, and are concentrated in service sector jobs. Many employers rely on youth to supply cheap and temporary labor, while adults often perceive these early jobs merely as rites of passage in a way that justifies their precarious conditions. Framing these jobs as transitional or solely for young people undermines these forms of labor as real work.

Seeking to “highlight the experience of young people who work and to challenge clichés about young workers,” the study “focuses on workers between the ages of 18 and 29 in retail and food service, the two largest employers of young people in Los Angeles County and an integral part of the region’s labor landscape” and uses “a research justice lens that aims to center the experience, and position, of young workers and student researchers as experts.”

Read the full report here.