Advancing Workers’ Rights in the Workforce Development Community

By Becky Firesheets

Sara Esfarayeni, Joanne Mason, and Becky Firesheets recently represented SLU at “Designing a System for the Future of Workers,” the New York City Employment & Training Coalition’s workforce development conference held Monday, September 23rd at the CUNY Graduate Center. The sold-out event featured panels and presentations with various CBOs, educational institutions, and local and city government, focusing on topics such as the role of public policy, utilizing big data, building apprenticeship programs, and how to more effectively support immigrants, women, and people of color in entering and advancing through the workplace.

“Equity” was a major theme throughout the day, addressed most honestly by Keynote Speaker Wes Moore, CEO of the Robin Hood Foundation, who challenged the audience in his opening speech by saying, “It’s not about finding jobs, it’s about jobs with fair and living wages. All of us have a responsibility.”

Other highlights included a smart (and snarky!) presentation by Kiersten Barnet of the Bloomberg Gender-Equality Index, an eye-opening speech about unemployment statistics of differently-abled New Yorkers, and a passionate panel featuring City Council Members Carlina Rivera and Mark Treyger, who both encouraged the audience to be bold in confronting the mayor’s and governor’s offices, especially when it comes to creating and implementing policies that serve low-income communities.

Near the end of the event, Tara Colton, Executive Director of the nonprofit Seedco, asked the big question many of us have been thinking for years now: “Why aren’t you [the employer] paying for this?” Her fiery explanation as to why employers should see our programs’ participants and students as “valuable assets” was heartily applauded.

Overall, this year’s conference was certainly more progressive and diverse than ever before. Still, workers’ rights and the importance of unions is not at the forefront of the conversation happening within the workforce development community – but don’t worry, SLU’s Worker Education team is set on changing that.