Tag Archives: labor studies

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Behind the Camera with Tsering Lama: Documenting Domestic Workers’ Fight for Rights

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

Kayleigh Truman’s Journey to Broadway, and Beyond

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

Out of Australia and into CUNY SLU

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

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.