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.

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Xhoana Ahmeti

Ahmeti_Photo2016_USXhoana (pronounced “Jo’ – ahh – nah”) Ahmeti emigrated from a coastal city in southern Albania to the northwest suburbs of Chicago at the tender age of four. She gives special attention to this fact because it has shaped nearly every aspect of her life. Two years ago Xhoana graduated from DePaul University with a BA in public policy studies and geography. In addition to her studies, she worked on campus and community organizing for environmental and transit justice campaigns. Through her involvement in Union Semester — and based on her experiences as an immigrant woman — Xhoana hopes to join and create spaces of robust action within the labor movement.

Xhoana is interning with the Policy and Legislation Department at 32BJ SEIU. 

Robert Ascherman

Ascherman%3b Union Semester Bio PhotoRobert Ascherman is a recent graduate of New York University, where he studied social movements, cultural studies and liberation movements such as the Liberation Theology Movement and Liberation Psychology Movement. Nonetheless, Robert considers his true alma mater to be the NYU Student Labor Action Movement, where he specialized in base building and leadership development. Robert is attending Union Semester to develop a stronger foundation in Labor Relations and U.S. Labor History, especially in the Deep South. Raised in Birmingham, Alabama he is interested in pushing the frontiers of organized labor and studying new, creative models of organizing, and takes inspiration from the Southern Tenant Farms Union.  After Union Semester, he hopes to go on to attend a master’s program and finish his thesis on Political Psychology and mental health as it relates to organizing, which he started while living in South Africa with Abahlali base Mjondolo, the country’s largest and arguably most repressed social movement.

Robert is interning with the United Autoworkers (UAW) Region 9A on graduate worker organizing campaigns. 

Jesusdaniel Barba

jesusdanielJesusdaniel Barba is a junior majoring in Environmental Studies with a joint major in Film and Media Culture at Middlebury.  Born and raised in Los Angeles, his interests are in social inequality, contemporary art, environmental racism, education, gender and queer studies. At Union Semester, he would like to learn more about the history of the Labor Movement in the United States and would also like to learn different ways to support workers’ rights and become a more active activist in the areas of his interest. He hopes to gain a better understanding of how labor organizations function and how they support millions of workers throughout the world — especially in New York City.

Jesus is interning with the Writers Guild of America East in their organizing department. 

Hank Broege

broegeHank Broege grew up in Belmont Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston. For undergrad, Hank attended Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida, where he majored in history and minored in political science. While in Florida, Hank led a student club (Coalition for Community Justice), which primarily advocated for living wages for the college housekeepers. Hank then went to Sarah Lawrence College, where he received an MA in Women’s History. While at Sarah Lawrence, he sat on a bargaining committee with college facilities workers and Local 30 union reps while the school’s first union contract for skilled tradesmen was negotiated. He also co-led a student club (SLC Workers Justice) to support this union campaign. Through Union Semester, he seeks to understand labor in the U.S. on a deeper level in order to help address wealth inequality and occupational segregation, expand union membership and make unions more powerful, so as to better defend workers from the effects of capitalism.

Hank is interning in the Legislative and Communication departments of the Professional Staff Congress-CUNY.

Gabriela Ceja Morales

Gabriela photoGabriela Ceja Morales is a socially engaged artist working with labor and identity. She investigates the impact of labor in social psyche by exploring working environments and amplifying the voices of workers whose life paths have been affected by classism, racism, exploitation and alienation; such as indigenous people that move into urban areas to work in construction and domestic activities. Believing that art and education are tools for social change, she designs programs that expand the limits within disciplines, institutions and publics, urgently looking forward to motivate and empower individuals and communities. She is excited to improve her artistic and pedagogical practice by joining the labor studies program at CUNY, in which she seeks to learn about the labor movement strategies that have helped transformed workers lives.

Gabriela is organizing with the NYC District Council of Ironworkers. 

Nora Callahan

noraNora Callahan is a soon-to-be third year at Northeastern University in Boston. She was born and raised in the DC area and enjoys running, Harry Potter, math, and bananas. She has come to Union Semester by way of United Students Against Sweatshops and is incredibly excited to be working and learning about the labor movement in the context of New York City and a rapidly-changing global economy. She hopes to gain skills and knowledge she can bring back to the campaigns happening on and off college campuses in Boston.

Nora is interning with the Doctors Council.

Luisa De Paula Santos

luisaLuisa De Paula Santos was raised Brazilian in Miami, FL. She attended Amherst College and there became more attentive to issues of class. She’s been involved with a variety of community organizations and social causes, from climate justice to fair development to democratic education. Recently in DC, Luisa worked as a research intern for a progressive think tank and volunteered as an organizer with ONE DC’s Black Workers’ Center and with its Cooperation DC project. Luisa is passionate about worker cooperatives and workers centers as important alternative models for worker organization. As an immigrant, Luisa is also interested in the connecting of labor struggles transnationally in this neoliberal era.

Luisa is interning with Communications Workers of America Local 1102.

Kelly Gilbert


Kelly Gilbert is very excited to be a part of Union Semester this Fall! She has experience working on different campaigns for the Retail Action Project and on her own undergrad campus, Sarah Lawrence. She also works at a retreat for young adults called Skill Set, where she teaches workshops on classism and workplace rights. Her goal is to become a more effective organizer and educator, and she is looking forward to getting to work.

Kelly is interning with the Transport Workers Union Local 100 in the Education department.

Amir Khafagy

Amir Khafagy is an Egyptian/ Puerto Rican (Egypto Rican) New Yorker who is an artist, vocal activist and dedicated community organizer. He was born and raised in Jackson Heights, Queens. Amir’s mother stayed at home to raise him and his two siblings as his father worked 15 hour days driving a yellow cab so he can pay the rent and keep the food on the table. Amir’s political awakening came out of his excitement over the Arab Spring in Egypt and the Occupy Wall Street Movement. After participating in Occupy, Amir became in involved in the student movement in CUNY as well as the anti-gentrification and Black Lives Matters Movement. As a performance artist Amir is currently on tour with Pig Chong’s + Company’s “Beyond Sacred: Voices of Muslim Identity”. Amir is currently organizing around displacement in Flushing, Queens and is a resident MA student in Queens College. Amir would like to thank The Murphy Institute for the opportunity to be a part of this important program. He hopes to be able to be a part of a resurgent labor movement in this country.  ¡Si Se Puede!

Amir is interning with the Community Organizing department of the New York State Nurses Association.

Etienne Martel

DSC_0004Born and raised in Montreal, Etienne Martel studied sociology and history before pursuing his master’s degree on the integration of immigrant and minority workers and the role of the major Quebec unions in that process at the University of Quebec in Montreal. Then, he got involved in his local union council as well as continuing his work with migrant workers. When he heard about Union Semester, he was immediately motivated by this opportunity to learn more and to help continue the struggle for workers’ rights in NYC.

Etienne is interning with the Contract Enforcement and Communications departments at the Council of Interns and Residents-SEIU.

Chloe Rockarts

chloe rockartsChloe Rockarts is a third generation settler on Haudenosaunee/Six Nations territory in Mississauga, Ontario. She just recently finished her degree in Communications and Film Studies at the University of Ottawa in Canada’s capital city, where she also worked at her Student Federation as a Campaigns Organizer. From this, she is looking to transition from the world of student advocacy to community-based organizing. She is interested in dismantling oppressive structures both in and out of the workplace, as well as exploring the capacity for movement building across borders.  Chloe is looking forward to learning about the current context of labour in the U.S. and how it compares to the issues Canadian labour organizers are facing, in hopes that it will help her gain a better understanding of how to overcome the current struggles workers are facing.

Chloe is interning with the 1199 SEIU Education Department.

James Rosenstein Hopkins

Mom and me seeing Bernie!Born and raised in South Orange, NJ, James has been going to rallies, picket lines, membership meetings, and union halls since he was a baby. Having been raised in a pro-union household, James “grew up in the labor movement.” Trying to expand his horizons outside of New Jersey, James attended Knox College in Galesburg, IL, majoring in Sociology and moving to Chicago to teach after graduation. After two years, he returned to NJ to organize with Communication Workers of America and then hit the campaign trail organizing for Senator Bernie Sanders in South Carolina, New York, and New Jersey. Despite his knowledge of and experiences within the labor movement, James wants to grow as an organizer and general activist and expand his horizons outside of New Jersey.

James is interning with the New York Professional Nurses Union.

Robert Tiburzi

IMG_7933Robert Tiburzi grew up about 40 minutes away from the city in Harrison, New York. He recently graduated from Columbia University with a double major in American and Middle Eastern Studies. For his studies, he spent a summer each in Amman and Ramallah studying Arabic. Robert wrote his thesis, however, on William Burroughs. He also recently wrote a report on US Foods for Cornell’s Strategic Corporate Research program. Rob looks forward to meeting everyone and getting started at his internship and classes.

Rob is interning with Laborers International Union of North America Local 79.

Erin Tucker

Erin TuckerA student and activist, Erin Tucker has always been passionate about human rights, women’s rights, and social justice. She is an undergraduate student studying Sociology and Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, VA. Through collaboration and mentorships with professors at VCU and UMW, her interest in labor rights grew into a pressing need for change within the current global capitalist system. During the Spring 2016 semester, she started a United Students Against Sweatshops local on the VCU campus and quickly got to work with fellow students to request VCU affiliate with the Worker Rights Consortium, an independent factory monitoring organization. In one semester, they were able to see their first victory for garment workers producing VCU apparel. Attending NY Union Semester, Tucker plans to continue pushing for social and institutional change for human justice.

Erin is doing research with the Food Services division of UNITE HERE.

Bronte Walker

bronteBronte grew up in Brisbane, Australia. After graduating high school, she majored in International Studies with a focus on International Inequality and Development and French at the University of Queensland. She took two gap years, one of which she spent as an au pair in Paris, and moved to the United States in 2014 when she discovered that she could recommence her studies there. A recent graduate of LaGuardia Community College, Bronte will finish her BA in Urban and Community Studies with a focus on Labor Studies at the Murphy Institute. Bronte is a trumpet player in the Rude Mechanical Orchestra, a social and political activist band based in Brooklyn that supports protests, demonstrations and picket lines for women’s rights, workers’ rights, environmental rights, LGBTQA+ rights, economic equality and community empowerment. Playing with the Rude Mechanical Orchestra has brought together Bronte’s love of music and importance of activism. Bronte has come to understand the many struggles of New Yorkers and taking part in the Union Semester will only continue to broaden her understanding of this complex city.

Bronte is interning with the New Immigrant Community Empowerment.

Ermir Yzeiraj

ermirErmir is a CUNY Queens College graduate, completing his B.A. in Political Science and Psychology, as well as an honors business minor and a Peer Support Services minor. He is a proud Albanian, with hardworking immigrant parents. Ermir has been working as a doorman since senior year of his high-school career (non-unionized). It is a fulfilling experience, but the lack of a union has sparked his immense interest in labor studies. New York Union Semester will provide great insight into the history of the labor unions and the methods they use to tackle workers rights. He hopes that his fervor for helping people, coupled with the experience provided by Union Semester, will direct him towards a career in public policy aimed at serving union members.

Ermir is organizing with Laborers’ Local 1010.