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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.

The Chief Features The Murphy Institute

The Chief-Leader is a New York City-based weekly newspaper focused on municipal government and civil servants, as well as issues affecting New York State and Federal employees. The most recent issue of the newspaper features an article about the Murphy Institute: “As Jobs’ Complexity Grows, Murphy Institute Helps Bridge Knowledge Gap: Union-Backed Center Polishes Skills, Broadens Education.” The article includes quotes from Henry Garrido (Executive Director of DC 37 and Murphy Advisory Board member), Ed Ott (Murphy Distinguished Lecturer) and several JSMI students.

From Henry Garrido:

“Over the next five years, 120,000 city workers will retire, and we really need the professional public employees that remain to be up to the challenges ahead.”

The article continues:

“To help weather the turbulence ahead, DC 37 is building on its long relationship with the City University of New York’s Murphy Institute. The institute was established in collaboration with city labor unions in 1984 at Queens College to serve the higher-education needs of working adults. It started with just 52 students, and today serves more than 1,500 who are enrolled in undergraduate and graduate degree and certificate programs. CUNY plans on elevating it to being one of the university’s schools by next fall.”

Check it out here.

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.”

Millennials and Boomers Explore Shared Challenges

Last Friday, the Murphy Institute hosted Building Bridges Across the Generation Gap, an event designed to bring millennials and baby boomers together to talk about the challenges faced by the two groups. Jillian Berman covered the event for MarketWatch:

“This notion of generational warfare is a red herring,” Eric Kingson, a professor of social work at Syracuse University’s Aging Studies Institute, told the crowd of about 100 gathered at the Murphy Institute’s offices on the 18th floor of a midtown New York City building. Kingson, the co-author of “Social Security Works!,” a book extolling the value of Social Security, argued that political leaders, particularly conservative ones, often use generational differences to drive people apart and keep them from demanding what they’re entitled to from their government.

Kingson had a foolproof test. He asked participants to raise their hands if they had grandparents or grandchildren and then asked if they hated their grandparents or grandkids to prove that the two groups really do have each other’s concerns at heart. “I don’t accept this notion of young versus old as a real issue. I view it as something that was created and is used as a wedge to try and drive people apart,” Kingson told MarketWatch. “The reality is it hasn’t worked very well, even though there’s a lot of talk about it.” Continue reading Millennials and Boomers Explore Shared Challenges

Report: Labor and Longevity: Unions and the Aging Workforce

In recent years, the once-widespread practice of long-term career employment has been abandoned by most nonunion employers, replaced by what’s been described as a “much more open, just-in-time labor market” — one in which older workers are especially likely to be laid off. Pensions have been radically transformed, while the unionized share of the workforce has declined sharply, especially in the private sector, and the number of workers covered by multi-employer pension plans has fallen dramatically.

How can we make sense of this changing landscape for aging workers?

Murphy Professors Ruth Milkman and Ed Ott recently released a report called “Labor and Longevity: Unions and the Aging Workforce.” In it, they explore the relationship between aging workers and union organizing nationwide and in New York City, offering recommendations for how unions can defend and negotiate for benefits that meet the needs of all of their workers.

Read the full report here.