Category Archives: Union Semester

A Warm Welcome to the Fall 2017 Union Semester Class!


Michael Devan
Michael is a recent graduate of Queens College, where he double-majored in Political Science and Philosophy. As an undergraduate, Michael organized with student-led groups such as the Student Organization for Democratic Alternatives and the Students’ Empowerment Party, which sought to build concrete institutions for the implementation of student power. Finding many analogues between the respective student and labor struggles in NY and elsewhere, Michael wishes to employ what he knows about student organizing in the union community through policy research and direct democratic grassroots engagement.

 

Chava Friedland
Chava Friedland is 21 years old and majoring in Science and Technology studies at Wesleyan University. Chava has spent many years at a Jewish socialist summer camp speaking with friends and educating campers about many aspects of social justice. Chava’s interest in participating in Union Semester is to apply academic knowledge more concretely to the world and learn how to be a better activist and community builder. Chava is excited to dig deeply into the specifics of labor history and labor issues in the US, as well as devote energy to union organizing in the coming months!

 

Henry Green
Henry Green grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He graduated last spring from Columbia University, where he majored in Comparative Literature and completed an independent study on the Haitian Revolution. Henry gained experience working on political campaigns in college, where he was a member of Jewish Voice for Peace and participated in planning and launching a divestment campaign. After graduating college, he worked as an English teacher in France as well as with the non-profit Our Revolution to oppose right-wing candidates in the French presidential election. Henry has experience doing corporate research, and has completed a report on Spirit Airlines for an AFL-CIO/Cornell strategic research training program this past summer.

 

Amber Grof
Amber is a proud Nuyorican, originally from the Lower East Side. She is a senior at Hunter College, with a major in Sociology and minor in Human Rights. She comes from a background in the non-profit sector with a focus on community organizing, advocacy and education. Amber is excited to partake in the Union Semester to learn more about the historical roots and modern day practices of labor organizing to better hone her skills as an organizer and contribute in solidarity to the labor movement.

 

Nate Joseph
Nate is from the Los Angeles area, and recently graduated from California State University, Long Beach with a BA in Sociology with a minor in Political Science. In addition to his studies, he has been involved in organizing work with the ANSWER Coalition. Nate is deeply interested in studying and building international labor and social movement solidarity in the fight for global progressive change. He is excited to participate in the Union Semester program so as to become a more effective activist and scholar through engaging in the struggle in this critical time.

 

Sean Keith
Sean Keith recently completed his second year at Northeastern University as a BA-MA combined History student with a minor in Chinese. His areas of academic interest are America and China, and he is specifically interested in labor history, economic history, political economy, and the history of social movements. He is a proud member of Northeastern’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and is on the organizing committee for the newly formed Democratic Socialists of America Libertarian Socialist Caucus (DSA-LSC). As a libertarian socialist, Sean is particularly passionate about union democracy, or the general democratization of unions through processes like participatory budgeting and developments like rank-and-file battles against conservative labor leaderships and bureaucracies. He also has a burgeoning interest in Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), or more specifically the radical policy implications of left-wing post-Keynesian thought.

 

Janet Kwon
Janet is a native of California’s Central Valley. This past summer, she was a Chun Tae-Il Korean Organizing Fellow in Los Angeles at Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance (KIWA), a multi-ethnic worker center organizing low-wage Latinx and Korean workers. As the child of Korean immigrants, she is interested in the ways that immigrant workers can fight for their rights and empower their communities from within. After graduating from the University of Chicago in 2014 with a degree in Art History, she spent the past three years working in the art world in New York. Observing how workers in this industry were subject to unjust and exploitative practices spurred her to reconsider what her work would be in service of, which led her to join the labor movement. She is interested in the improvement of working and living conditions of low-wage immigrant workers and intersections of race, class, and gender. In her free time she enjoys reading, walking aimlessly, and she volunteers at the 4th Street Food Co-op in lower Manhattan.

 

Margit Lindgren
Originally from Norway, Margit Lindgren is a recent graduate from New York University in Abu Dhabi. She engaged with labor issues in the Gulf during her studies in Abu Dhabi and conducted research on labor movements following the discovery of oil in Kuwait. She is excited to get more hands on experience with labor organizing during her time at CUNY’s Union Semester.

 

Austin Michaels
Austin recently graduated from the University of Denver with a Bachelor’s degree in International Studies and Philosophy. A lifelong fascination with politics led Austin to study them first on the international level, and later on a theoretical basis. Austin sees the labor movement as the natural venue in which to pursue transformative, radically democratic politics in service of the greatest good and is excited to begin working toward this goal.

 

Caring Okonkwo
Caring Okonkwo is a graduate of John Jay College of Criminal Justice. She was born in Nigeria and stays in the Bronx . Caring’s reason for joining New York Union Semester is to learn more about workers’ rights and to help make a difference regarding workers’ movements globally.

 

Maia Rosenberg
Maia grew up in Colorado where she spent years training in classical ballet. She attended Goucher College in Baltimore for a year and a half before leaving to intern with Organizing 2.0, in order to learn more about digital organizing and activism. Most recently, Maia has been involved in organizing resistance efforts in DC against the current administration, and plays a logistical role in the People’s Summit and the upcoming Organizing 2.0 conferences. Previously she was involved in anti-fracking work in her home town in CO, as well as anti-dark money and electoral work in Tennessee, where she joined the local chapter of DSA. She is also a founder of the recently formed Socialist Artists Alliance. Maia is looking forward to delving deeper into labor history and organizing over the next few months.

 

Andrew Stebenné
Andrew grew up in Phoenix, Arizona, and decided to study Computer Science and Comparative Cultural Studies, but, seeing what’s going on in the world, decided it was important to take a moment and focus his energy on learning to organize, both in labor and socially. He believes the fights which are coming will be huge and important, which is why he applied to Union Semester.

 

Michael Ángel Rodríguez Vázquez
Originally from the suburbs of Los Angeles, Michael Ángel is a second year graduate student at UC San Diego. Prior to coming to NYC, he spent five years as an educator, including three as a teacher. Over the years he has developed strong interests in culturally responsive education and comprehensive immigration reform; with these in mind, he would one day like to serve as a high school principal in Southern California. Ultimately, Michael Ángel hopes this experience will help him best advocate for migrants, teachers, and students of color.

 

Nate Vosburg
Born and raised in rural Iowa, Nate comes to the Union Semester with various campaign experience throughout the Midwest. As an undergrad at the University of Kansas, he studies Political Science with a concentration in statistics. Outside of school, he has volunteered with Black Lives Matter-LFK as well as the Campaign to Keep Guns Off Campus. Nate is excited to develop as an activist and organizer while exploring the general labor movement as a career path.

 

Janée White
Janée White was born and raised in New York City. A deep interest in sexual education led her to her position at Babeland as a Sales Associate/ Sex Educator, where she aided in building an organizing committee and served as a shop delegate after Babeland won the vote for union representation by the RWDSU. Her participation in Union Semester will help her determine how she can best serve the labor movement going forward.

Spring 2017 Union Semester Arrives!

Meet this year’s terrific new Union Semester interns!

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Priscilla Acuña Mena

Priscilla Acuña Mena is a December 2016 graduate eager to begin her post-college life with Union Semester in the hope that it will help her lay a foundation of activist engagement for years to come. She studied Human Biology, which she describes as a health-centric social studies degree, and Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity (minor) at Stanford University. Her family, though originally from Costa Rica, moved to California when she was an infant and later to Jakarta, Indonesia, where she spent middle and high school. She is grateful for the transnational perspective on social justice that these life experiences have given her. While most of her previous work experience is in providing direct services in Latinx communities, she greatly appreciates her previous exposure to organizing through her involvement with Resource Generation and showing up for campus activism, and is eager to continue learning.

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Fiona Asante

Fiona Asante was born in Accra, Ghana in West Africa and spent the first 17 years of her life in her land of birth. She migrated to the United States in 2008 and promptly began her journey to excellence in the American educational system. She lived in Buffalo, NY for 4 years, where she completed her high school education and started her college career at Erie Community College. However, due to a workplace injury that rendered her immobile, she was forced to withdraw from her classes and concentrate on her recovery. After 2 surgeries and intense physical therapy, she was able to gain adequate functionality and promptly moved back home to Bronx, NY.  She enrolled in Bronx Community College for her Associate of Science degree in Paralegal Studies and graduated with Honors.  Her experience and exposure to the legal system during her workplace injury buttressed her interest in the legal field and fueled her passion to bring change as well as contribute to the legal system. She is currently enrolled at John Jay College of Criminal Justice pursuing her Bachelor’s Degree in Law and Society. She is the Community Associate Member of the John Jay Mock Trial Club, where she ensures that the club activities run smoothly.  Her other interests include fitness, fashion and family. When she is not busy pursuing her goals, you will find Fiona at home binge watching shows on Netflix or sleeping. Fiona aspires to be a member of the American Bar Association and strongly believes that if she wants to see change, she has to be the change.

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Mike Bradley

Mike Bradley was born and raised in NYC. He has been working for 11 years as a doorman and is a member of SEIU Local 32BJ. He is also working on his Masters in Labor Studies at The Murphy Institute. His motivation for joining the Union Semester Program is to get hands on experience working at a union and gain some knowledge that will allow him to take the next steps toward the career he wants to pursue once he completes his degree.

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Jason Clarke

Jason is 25 years old and from the beach side town of Newcastle in Australia. He has lived in the capital, Canberra, for the past 5 years. He recently graduated with a bachelor degree in languages from the Australian National University, majoring in Indonesian and Spanish. In his spare time Jason enjoys hiking, skiing, travelling and studying languages. He decided to undertake the Union Semester Program to equip himself with the skills needed to work towards improving the lives of the most vulnerable workers in the community. He is really excited to develop these skills and to experience living in New York City!

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Taylor Cook

Taylor is a junior Sociology & Gender, Sexuality, Feminist Studies major at Middlebury College. She spends most of her time on campus organizing with the Fossil Fuel Divestment/ Reinvestment campaign, hosting a weekly radio show, and learning about critical disability studies. She is new to the labor movement and is looking forward to leaning into nuances and contradictions throughout Union Semester.

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Aminta Dawson

Aminta Dawson is originally from Texas. She came to New York to study at Sarah Lawrence College, and graduated in 2015 with a concentration in Anthropology. While working at Trader Joe’s this past year; she got involved with the union organizing campaign at the 72nd store, eventually becoming one of the store organizers. This semester she hopes to better cultivate her skills as an organizer, as well as have a more comprehensive understanding about labor history and organizing as a whole.

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Matan Diner

Matan is a New York City native and recent graduate of Clark University. At Clark he majored in political science and minored in history. Since graduating he has worked at multiple organizations including the Correctional Association of New York, a prison reform organization. He is also a member of the New York City chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, a Palestinian solidarity organization.  He is excited to further build his understanding of organized labor through hands-on experience.

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Maria DiPasquale

Maria DiPasquale graduated from Emerson College in May 2016 with a BFA in Writing, Literature, and Publishing. She is from Maplewood, NJ, but now resides in Brooklyn, NY. While at Emerson, Maria was an active member of Emerson P.R.I.D.E, a local of United Students Against Sweatshops. She worked in solidarity with campus food service workers and clerical, technical, and professional workers as both groups organized and won successful union drives. She also worked on campaigns in solidarity with Bangladeshi garment workers and participated in the Boston Fight for $15 movement as a student ally. She finished her college career with a thesis entitled “Writing About Oppression and Social Movements from a Privileged Position: New Strategies for Fiction,” accompanied by “Here We Are: Stories of Women and Work in Boston,” a collection of short stories. Maria previously interned for Massachusetts Jobs with Justice! and ROC Boston, and hopes that her Union Semester internship will allow her to gain new skills and perspectives on the labor movement. She wants to spend her career working for collective liberation, and hopes Union Semester will help her find a place within the labor movement where she can be an asset!

TaliGinsburg

Tali Ginsburg

Tali Ginsburg is from Chicago, and is currently on a year away from Brown University. Tali is especially interested in issues of identity and power, particularly as they relate to labor, the environment, and reproductive justice. They also love to write, sing, stitch, and drink tea. They are excited to learn new skills and modes of resistance through Union Semester, and to build new community in New York.

sara

Sara Hobler

Originally from Buffalo, New York, Sara Hobler grew up as part of a labor union family and is excited to be entering the movement as an activist. She studies sociology and history at Binghamton University, where she is part of student leadership involved in social justice and organizing. This spring she hopes to develop her skills as an organizer and help make meaningful change in the lives of workers in New York City.

brianna

Brianna Holman

Brianna Holman is a recent graduate of Rutgers University – New Brunswick, where she obtained a bachelor of Science in Labor and Employment Relations. During her time at Rutgers, Brianna was involved Douglass Residential College, a program designed to support and empower women all while being involved in various student based organizations. Brianna would love to focus on community engagement, empowerment and education due to her experience in the New Brunswick and Plainfield communities in New Jersey and her time spent with a small community in the Dominican Republic. Through the union semester, Brianna would like to take the knowledge gained and educate urban communities in the importance of continued involvement in political and labor movements.

david

David Isserman

David Isserman was born and raised in rural upstate New York. He developed an interest in labor history and left-wing activism and joined the Young Democratic Socialists in 2011 at the age of 16. He attended Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, where he studied history and classics. While in Canada he was involved with the NDP, working on a parliamentary election campaign in 2015, and wrote for a student socialist newspaper called University and Union.  Upon returning to the U.S, he worked on the Kim Myers for Congress campaign in Utica, New York as a canvasser and office intern. By taking part in Union Semester, David hopes to gain experience as a labor organizer and work in the broader trade union movement.

jazmine

Jazmine Javier- LaRosa

Jazmine Javier- LaRosa is a NYC native hoping to expand her knowledge about current labor relations and union strategies. She is an alum of Adelphi University, with a BA in Political Science. Jazmine is currently enrolled in the MA program for Labor Studies at the Murphy Institute. While she has experience as a research assistant, she is most proud of her labor advocacy and organizing work through the Justice for Farmworkers Campaign.

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Liana Kallman

My name is Liana Kallman and I am currently working at a fried pickle restaurant and questioning what the future holds for all of us. I’m feeling ready to start organizing, learning and building power through the upcoming Union Semester. I most recently spent a year teaching English in a small town in Ecuador on a Fulbright scholarship. Before that, I studied at the University of Michigan where I spent time organizing student workers and building the labor movement on campus, focusing on leadership development for women activists.

mirella

Mirella Laure

Born and raised in Manhattan, New York. Mirella is familiar with The School of Professional Studies, taking classes there during her time at Guttman Community College while completing her Associates Degree in Urban Studies. Mirella’s interest in social justice, urban studies, and public policy has only furthered while pursuing her bachelor’s degree in political science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Her specific interests within political science are environmental, food, and urban planning policy. The Union Semester Program is the perfect meeting of public policy, urban issues, and organizing. This intersection of studies are what drew Mirella to the program as well as her interest in the history and future of the labor movement.

kayleigh

Kayleigh Madormo

Kayleigh grew up in New York, in the beautiful Hudson Valley where she developed a love for photography and exploring the outdoors. She is a recent graduate of SUNY New Paltz, where she earned a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology. Her passion for social activism was sparked when she began working for the New York Public Interest Research Group as a community outreach canvasser, gaining grassroots support for statewide, renewable energy reform. She continued working with NYPIRG during her final semester of undergrad as an intern, taking on the role of project leader for the Hunger Prevention and Homelessness Awareness campaign. She believes that protecting workers’ rights is essential in the fight for social justice, especially due to the recent changes in the political climate of the United States. She is excited to continue her academic career and journey as an activist with the Union Semester and hopes to learn how to be a more effective organizer for the future.

addie

Addie Mahdavi

Addie Mahdavi is 20 years old; she was raised in Newfane, Vermont. She is a junior American Studies major at Middlebury College in Vermont, where she also works as an assistant in the Student Financial Services Office and plays on the Women’s Ultimate Frisbee team. She looks forward to learning more about unions and the labor movement through Union Semester, and hopes to bring together work around labor with work around identities and systems of oppression to support broader movements toward justice.

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Leah McGrath Reynolds

Originally from St. John’s, Newfoundland, Leah has been living in Montréal for the past 8 years where she has been involved in collectively-run DIY music and art groups and spaces and earned her BA in Community, Public Affairs, and Policy Studies from Concordia University. She is interested in the intersection of labour, immigration, and migration, in particular guest and temporary work programs. She is excited to become acquainted with the American labor movement, broaden her awareness of labour issues, and to learn skills and tactics for organizing precarious work environments and arrangements. Ready for a change of scenery, she is very excited to spend some time in New York City.

ezra

Ezra Sholom

Ezra is a first year Master’s candidate at Rutgers University-New Brunswick for an MA in Labor & Employment Relations. He received his BA from Rutgers double majoring in Criminal Justice and Labor Studies & Employment Relations. He is from Edison, New Jersey and currently resides in Washington Heights. Before and during Ezra’s college career, he organized around several important social justice issues such as police brutality, mass incarceration, racial injustice and worker’s rights among others. He decided to join New York Union Semester based on his upcoming receipt of a Joint Bachelor’s-Master’s Degree from Rutgers and future in the labor movement. Ezra’s ultimate goal in being part of Union Semester is to figure out his place in revitalizing and empowering the American labor movement while bringing union power to heights it hasn’t experienced since the 1950’s.

jake

Jake Villarreal

Jake Villarreal is a recent graduate from Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. He enjoys cooking, gardening, and documentaries. He is passionate about building collective power, safe communities, and democratic institutions. In Fall 2017, Jake will be attending law school at Washington University in St. Louis on a public interest scholarship.

Community College Faculty Strike, Win Contract

This week, Labor Notes published an article by Union Semester alum Michael McCown, who served as staff organizer for AFT 2121’s recently contract campaign and strike. That article, outlining the campaign strategy and how it unfolded, is re-posted below with permission. See the original article at Labor Notes.

By Michael McCown

For the first time in its 40-year history, the union of full- and part-time faculty at City College of San Francisco recently went on strike—and it worked.

Teachers (AFT) Local 2121 pulled off a one-day strike April 27, despite the administration’s claim that the strike was illegal. By July, to head off another strike, the college agreed to a union contract with substantial raises. Faculty members had been working without one for a year.

Strikes in higher education are rare. Faculty work is isolated, and despite the popular portrayal of academics as having the ultimate job security, most instructors are part-timers with short-term contracts.

Part-timers often have to rush off to other jobs, making it difficult to build the social bonds necessary to take risky action together. And going on strike can be perceived as hurting students, many of whom at the community-college level are quite vulnerable: English-language learners, former prisoners, and the homeless.

At City College, a public community college of nine campuses built to serve 100,000 students, faculty faced the additional threat that the school could be shut down entirely. They organized anyway. Continue reading Community College Faculty Strike, Win Contract

Meet NY Union Semester Fall 2016!

Welcome our Fall 2016 NY Union Semester class!

16 students from Virginia, Massachusetts,  New York City, Montreal, Mexico City, Florida,  Illinois and others are thick in the middle of NY Union Semester. 11 graduate students and 5 undergraduates are at a range of host organizations, including SEIU 1199, Transport Workers Union Local 100, UNITE HERE, Laborer’s and others. Among their placements they are conducting strategic research, meeting with workers, creating digital content for campaigns, advocating for public funding and seeing the inner workings of the most union dense city in the US.

Read more…

Continue reading Meet NY Union Semester Fall 2016!

Celebrating Union Semester’s Wrap

Huge congratulations to our graduating NY Union Semester students of spring 2016! We are so pleased that so many of our students had life-changing experiences this semester. This semester, our students hung out with union presidents, organized for a potentially devastating Supreme Court case, talked to roadpavers about their rights at work, used popular education to train union leaders, helped facilitate a strike authorization vote, handled grievances for low-wage workers — and more.

For our final celebration on May 20, 2016 we heard a wonderful speech from student Andrew Brockwell (PSC-CUNY intern) and were treated to a singalong of “Union Maid” from Claire Edwards (1199 SEIU intern). We cannot wait to see you all in the movement going forward!

You could find Union Semester students talking to pedi-cab drivers, wearing a hard hat in Queens, coordinating community organizing efforts out of schools, building a plan to bring sustainable development to their home borough of the Bronx, memorializing Triangle Shirtwaist victims and playing pick-up basketball games.

Extra congratulations to our folks who have been offered union and community organizing work and internships already. You earned it!

Orientation Week at Union Semester

Photo features Union Semester Spring 2016 students

January 25 saw the arrival of a new crop of Union Semester students to the Murphy Institute. Students spent the next four days diving into the labor movement, learning about and from each other, and interviewing with potential organizations.

Some highlights include:

Social Justice Milestones

Students were asked to do a short presentation on an important moment that brought them to seek social justice as a passion and/or career.

The Panels

The Working in the Movement panelists talked about their current jobs at unions, plus how they got there. Our panel: Organizer Mary Clinton (Union Semester 2011) from CWA District 1 , Communications staff Rachel Van Raan-Welch (Union Semester 2012) from CIR SEIU, and Ed Yoo, the director of the NYSNA Research Department.

Panel on Working in the Movement, with Mary Clinton (alumni, now at CWA; Rachel Van Raan-Welch, alumni now at CIR SEIU; Ed Yoo, at NYSNA)
Mary, Rachel, Ed

Some tremendous Union Semester alumni came to speak about their semesters! We welcomed Brittany Anderson (Spring ’14) of Retail Action Project, Ryan Richardson (Fall ’07) with Cian, future member of Union Semester class of 2036 (pictured directly below). Hanalei Ramos (Spring ’15) of the Responsible Endowment Coalition and Liam Lynch (Fall ’13) with NYCOSH are pictured below. Thank you to Sam Valente (Fall ’14) for moderating!

Alumni Panel

Alumni Panel

Workshops

Eduardo Gonzalez Jr. from the Cornell University Extension led a terrific anti-oppression training.

Students participated in a simulation  organizing campaign, involving “house calls” with various Murphy staff people.

"House calls" during a practice organizing drive
“House calls” during a practice organizing drive

"House calls" during a practice organizing drive

Professor Josh Bienstock took students through a presentation and discussion of collective bargaining, its pitfalls and potentials.

Professor Josh Bienstock in a Collective Bargaining workshop.

Interviews with Host Organizations

Thursday evening, students made signs to take to a rally supporting workers at a restaurant downtown.

Preparing for protest

Headed to a protest downtown