Tsering Lama knows something about story-telling. Perhaps that’s because she herself has quite a story to tell.
Tsering is a Tibetan refugee, born and raised in Nepal. She came to the U.S. in 2008 hoping to work in health care, and studied psychology while supporting herself as a domestic worker. “Basically, I’ve been working and going to school non-stop ever since I got here. I didn’t have any ideas about organizing at first. That came about because of my own experiences as a domestic worker, and what I witnessed about other workers’ situations. I’ve always cared about social justice, and organizing seemed like the next logical step. I joined Adhikaar as staff in 2016 and through my work, along with workshops like the Cornell ILR program, I was able to learn more about the labor movement.”
Adhikaar (a Nepalese word meaning “rights”) is a non-profit located in Queens that seeks to improve the lives of the Nepali-speaking community and make their voices heard, and to promote human rights and social justice for all. The organization has been influential in supporting legislation at the local, state, national and international levels to protect the rights of domestic workers, including the New York State Domestic Workers Bill of Rights and the International Domestic Workers’ Convention. “Historically, domestic workers have been excluded from unions,” Tsering said. “Even with the Fair Labor Standards Act, many are excluded. So it will take legislation as well as organizing to change things. Continue reading Behind the Camera with Tsering Lama: Documenting Domestic Workers’ Fight for Rights
Haley Shaffer has been fighting for workers’ rights—including her own—for quite a while. But she says she’s just getting started.
Haley moved from the Milwaukee area to New York City in 2014 for an internship at a non-profit organization, StoryCorps, and later took a staff position. “My coworkers and I were dealing with a toxic work environment—we were expected to give everything for little remuneration—so we started to organize in 2016,” Haley said. “And I found myself on the organizing committee.” After a challenging campaign, the staff union went public in 2017 under CWA 1180.
“That was my first experience with the labor movement,” Haley said. “I stayed at StoryCorps through 2018, through an NLRB hearing and several months on the bargaining committee, but after such a tough campaign I was ready to move on.”
After working at another non-profit with similar issues, Haley wanted to do something else. “I saw two of the staff organizers from CWA 1180 at a StoryCorps picket, and they told me I should think about coming back to the labor movement. One of those organizers, Leslie Fine, is a Union Semester graduate and he suggested I look at SLU’s programs. I was interested in developing my organizing skills, and I was really interested in making it my full-time job to work in the labor movement. So I enrolled in the Union Semester program in 2019. I got placed with United for Respect, which works on organizing employees at big corporations like Amazon and Target and WalMart. It was a great experience. Then David Unger suggested I go into 32BJ’s training program, and I did that for a semester, organizing residential building employees like porters and doormen.”
Continue reading Haley Shaffer Builds a Career in the Labor Movement (with a little help from the SLU network)
Kayleigh Truman was destined for the spotlight. Not in it: the person behind it, running the show.
Kayleigh grew up in the theatre. “My parents met at a famous old vaudeville house, Proctor’s in Schenectady, New York, so they always called me a ‘Product of Proctor’s.’ My dad got his union card when I was ten, but I didn’t really understand why unions were important. I didn’t intend to go into theatre. When I went to college, I wanted to study archeology. But my work/study job was in a scene shop. By the time I graduated I had done 35 college productions, two seasons of summer stock, and had interned at a regional theatre. And I realized that was really what I wanted to do.”
It’s well-known that the New York theatre scene is famously difficult to break into. Not for Kayleigh. “Right out of college, through a happy accident I got a job as an intern with a major Broadway props company. Got yelled at by John Malkovich second day on the job. Good times. From there, I spent the next three years freelancing in props production.”
Continue reading Kayleigh Truman’s Journey to Broadway, and Beyond
Lawrence Ben is a long way from his home in Adelaide, South Australia.
Lawrence made the arduous two-day journey in August 2018 with a very specific purpose: to experience SLU’s Union Semester program.
“My parents sparked my interested in labor,” Lawrence said. “They were both teachers and union members and always told me that ‘when you go to work the first thing you need to do is join your union.’ I also worked as a fruit-picker in my teenage years and was never paid for my work, which sparked an interest in working for a union. While I was studying Law and Arts at the University of Adelaide I took a part-time job with the retail and fast food union in Australia. After I graduated from university, I worked full-time there.”
How did he learn about Union Semester? “I googled it,” he laughed. “It’s really rare to find a program like that with a stipend attached. The stipend made it possible for me to come here. And what better place to study labor than New York City—the classic union town and the center of the labor movement in America.” He added, “I did the application online and Diana Robinson responded right away. She facilitated everything, helped me deal with the international hurdles—she pulled down the roadblocks all the way, for me and for the other students in my cohort from overseas.”
Continue reading Out of Australia and into CUNY SLU
My name is Sephora Wembo and I am a senior at CUNY’s Hunter College majoring in Sociology and minoring in Women and Gender Studies, graduating this December. In the fall of 2019, I got nominated by my professor to take part in the Community Leadership Program at the CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies. When I heard about this amazing opportunity, I was excited to take part because I wanted to broaden my experience and skills and further my education in order to become a social worker.
The Community Semester program was an intensive academic and service-learning experience. It gave me the opportunity to not only learn academically but also outside the classroom with an internship. When I began this program, I kept on hearing the words “community organizing” and I had no idea what that meant. I now know that community organizing means empowering people in underrepresented communities to fight for issues that affect them. In class we not only learned about the subjects academically, but also got to experience them firsthand. For example, I attended one campaign in the city called “Housing Justice for All.” It was really empowering to see a lot of organizations come together to work for change in their communities.
Continue reading Community Semester Story: Sephora Wembo … in Her Own Words
Yvette Clairjeane is determined to succeed. And with a Master’s degree in Urban Studies from SLU, that is exactly what is happening.
How did she arrive at SLU? “I was working (and still am) at the NYC Department of City Planning (DCP), and I was looking for a program with evening classes so I could improve my skills. I discovered the Advanced Certificate program through SLU’s partnership with the NYC Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS). I thought the courses would help me in advancing my career. So I started out in the public policy certificate program.”
The certificate jump-started Yvette’s career progression. “I started out at the DCP as a research assistant in Counsel’s Office (legal division). After getting my certificate from SLU, I was given additional responsibilities and joined the business improvement team, which works to improve DCP’s business processes and make the agency more efficient. What I studied at SLU was really helpful in learning how the city runs, not just at my agency, but through all the services the city provides to its residents.”
Continue reading With a Degree from SLU, Yvette Clairjeane’s Career Trajectory Soars