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Gabriela Quintanilla is a DREAMer

Gabriela Quintanilla is a DREAMer. And she has some big dreams.

Born in El Salvador, Gabriela came to the U.S. as an undocumented immigrant at age 13 and grew up in the Catskills region of New York. She went to high school in Liberty, and was very active in her student government. When President Obama issued the executive order creating the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, the local press wanted to interview her. “I suddenly realized that everyone in my school and my community would know that I was undocumented,” said Gabriela, “but I wanted to share my story and raise awareness.”

Raising awareness is something Gabriela cared about from an early age. Her mother worked at a poultry factory for 12 years, and that’s how Gabriela became involved with the Rural & Migrant Ministry. “I joined RMM when I was 14,” she said. “I saw my mother’s situation and I wanted to know more about her rights. Every year we would go to Albany and my mother would share her story. In RMM I worked alongside women who really wanted to make a change in what is like a forgotten land. People in the City don’t understand that rural upstate New York isn’t just about growing apples. It’s about isolated factory workers and farmworkers who have been forgotten.”

After earning her degree in sociology at SUNY Stony Brook, Gabriela returned to RMM, serving as the organization’s Western New York Coordinator. “My job revolved around coalition-building. I worked alongside farmworkers who year after year shared their stories of oppression with legislators. I also organized community members to go to Albany and support The Farmworker Fair Labor Practices Act. The Farm Workers Bill had been around for 20 years. It was about getting farmworkers to be protected by New York labor laws. That they deserved a day of rest, overtime, and the right to collectively bargain. And eventually, we won.” Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the bill into law on July 17, 2019.

Gabriela learned about SLU four years ago when she met Laurie Kellogg and Diana Robinson at a food chain workers event. “I wanted to go to graduate school, and I thought SLU would be a good fit for me, with its emphasis on the labor movement. But I had just moved to the Finger Lakes and I wasn’t ready to make another change. I had always dreamed of living in New York City, and last summer I decided to make the move—in the middle of a pandemic. The first month was really hard—I’m an extrovert, and the lack of community was just awful. But I accomplished my goal: I’m enrolled at SLU, in my first semester in the Labor Studies MA program.” She sighed. “Online.”

Gabriela says she’s lucky—she had a great support system that helped her get her education. “Others aren’t so fortunate. So in 2015 I founded Adelante Student Voices, an organization that provides a safe space for New York’s undocumented students to explore their legal status and find routes to college. They learn about New York State’s DREAM Act, the legislation that allows eligible undocumented students to apply for financial aid for college. So far, 55 students have gone through our program and 26 have been able to go to college.”

Asked what she wants to learn at SLU, Gabriela replied, “I’m curious to explore how non-profit organizations have been able to achieve changes in the law without relying on unions. When you think about the labor movement you automatically think unions, but there are many other organizations that should be included. There needs to be a way to bridge the gap. I’m hoping my professors and my classmates can help me figure that out.”

She added, “I’m enjoying learning about urban issues and how labor issues play out in the city. But I also want to bring a different perspective, from my own experience. I want to find out how we can bring the most marginalized communities to the forefront of the labor movement. I want people to think about the issues that impact rural areas and those vulnerable and forgotten workers, many of them undocumented. I’m fortunate to have my green card now and I’ve applied for citizenship. And I will utilize this privilege to bring forward those who are marginalized to decision-making tables.”

She paused. “I’m not going to forget them.”

LEARN MORE ABOUT SLU’S M.A. IN LABOR STUDIES

Labor Rights and College Education

This post was originally published at The Diamondback. Reposted with permission.

By Olivia Delaplaine

Top on the long list of worries for most graduating students is the prospect of finding a job. Each day a hiring manager doesn’t email us back or a website removes a job listing — and the looming anxiety of paying back exorbitant student loans draws closer — our desperation grows. Soon, we abandon pipe dreams of a livable salary with health insurance and paid leave, and begin to search for any work we can find.

We enter interviews insecure, self-conscious and vulnerable. We might take the first offer that comes our way, because we don’t know any better. We feel like it’s a privilege to even be offered a job; so who are we to ask for a higher salary, fixed hours or better health insurance? It’s not like we had the chance to negotiate as a part-time student employee, teaching assistant or intern. We may have even tolerated daily harassment or intimidation while doing our jobs, unable to do anything about it. Why should we expect that to change?

So instead of convincing us that we should dress up and put on a show for companies and organizations that won’t even pay us a living wage, our institutions of higher education should have a central role in preparing students for the workplace. Just as they’re active in teaching us marketable skills, they should be teaching us about how to negotiate fair pay and benefits.

Continue reading Labor Rights and College Education

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.

Fall Graduate Class: Economic Democracy Against Economic Crisis

Taught by Evan Casper-Futterman
With Guest Lectures by Dario Azzellini

This class will be cross-listed in the Masters Programs of both Labor and Urban Studies. Speak to your adviser about registration.
Monday nights at the Murphy Institute

In the 1950s, labor unions claimed membership in 35% of the workforce. Today, density of labor unions outside of government employees is 6.7%. This precipitous decline in the economic and political power of working people begs the question: who will act as the countervailing economic and political forces to capital and inequality in the 21st century? This course will identify and examine multiple forms of workers’ self-management and cooperative enterprises and institutions throughout history, both as a reaction to economic crisis and as a coherent vision for a humane and just society. The course explicitly approaches cooperatives and self-management not as an “alternative business model,” but as part of labor history and labor struggles. This reconnects the idea of cooperatives to their origins and shows the potential of cooperatives in putting forward different values for a more just and participatory politics, economics, and society.

Faculty:

Evan Casper-Futterman is a 3rd generation New Yorker living in the Bronx. He earned a master’s degree in Urban and Regional Planning from the University of New Orleans in 2011, was a White House Intern in the Spring of 2012 in the Domestic Policy Council’s Office of Urban Affairs and a Research Fellow for the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives. He is currently a doctoral candidate at the Bloustein School of Urban Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University, studying economic democracy and economic development. He is on the Board of Directors of the Cooperative Economics Alliance of New York City (CEANYC). His writing has been published in The Lens and The Huffington Post, as well as the peer-reviewed Berkeley Planning Journal. He contributed a chapter in the edited volume, The Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas (2013).

Dario Azzellini, Murphy Institute visiting scholar, is a political scientist, lecturer at Johannes Kepler University in Linz, Austria, writer and filmmaker. He has published several books, essays and documentaries about social movements, privatization of military services, migration and racism, including An Alternative Labour History: Worker Control and Workplace Democracy. His research and writing focuses on social and revolutionary militancy, migration and racism, people’s power and self-administration, workers control and extensive case studies in Latin America.

Fall 2016 Capstone Presentations: Labor Studies MA

Compliments to our Fall 2016 Capstone students in the Labor Studies MA program! On November 29th and December 6th, with the supervision of Professor Lynne Turner, our MA candidates enlightened the audience and stimulated discussion about their research topics:

  • Milica Bogetic – The Trauma Doesn’t Stop at the Incident: A Case Study of Investigators’ Emotional Labor
  • Daniel Buk – Letting Labor Lead: How Germany Integrates Workers into Its Nation’s Innovation & Growth Policies Through Co-Determination
  • Steven Calco – Gender Politics in the CUNY Student Movement
  • Erica Dodt – Confronting Climate Change: The Blue-Green Alliance and the Prospects of Labor and Environmental Movements Working Together
  • Catherine Garcia – Inequality at the Workplace: The Gender Wage Gap
  • Micah Landau – Labor Movement Revitalization and Rank-and-File Caucuses: Lessons from Teamsters for a Democratic Union
  • Sarah Madden – This Affects Me: An App for a 21st Century Labor Movement
  • Samantha Sherry – Changing the Conversation: Framing in the #FightFor15 Movement
  • Samantha Valente – “Winner the Welder:” Ruth Young and the Fight for Gender Reform through the United Electrical Workers in the 1940’s

UMass Labor Center in Jeopardy

While the Murphy Institute establishes itself as a labor school, the state of labor education nationwide remains perilous. The latest news comes from the Labor Center at the University of Massachusetts Amherst: with the sudden departure this month of its director Eve Weinbaum, who has said the she was forced out of her position, plus the cutting of funding to the center, the future of the Center is now in question.

labor_center

An email from Weinbaum before Labor Day expressed dismay at the budget cuts and an appeal to the broader community to organize to ensure that the Center remains open. Since then, alumni and activists have been writing letters and making public appeals to keep funding in place for the Center.

From an article in Labor Notes:

It’s the latest blow in a volley against labor education programs. A 2015 report by Helena Worthen for the United Association for Labor Education found that in recent years, 34 of the 53 programs across the U.S. have either lost staff or outright disappeared.

The report identified right-wing think tanks like the Freedom Foundation and the Mackinac Center as key players in the drive to eliminate these programs, especially at public colleges and universities.

For more about the budget battle at Labor Notes and In These Times.

Photo by sushiesque via flickr (CC-BY-NC)