Fair Labor Advocate
Katie Quilici MILR ’16 graduated from Occidental College with a bachelor’s degree in economics in 2008. The only work she could find at the start of the recession was as a receptionist at a gym where she was paid minimum wage.
Quilici decided, instead, to travel two years — teaching English in Spain and another two years teaching in Germany.
There, she discovered companies, including her employer, were not always honest about the benefits they should have been providing workers under the law. As a freelancer and an immigrant, she didn’t feel she could do much about it.
Between teaching positions, she returned to the United States where she worked 70 hours a week, splitting her time between a cafe and a retail job. Quilici, who grew up in Tempe, Ariz., lived with her parents at the time. Otherwise, even with the number of hours she was working, she would not have been able to afford food and housing.
The Rana Plaza factory collapse, which killed more than 1,000 low-wage workers in 2013, was a turning point for Quilici, who decided at that point to commit to workers’ rights.
Quilici earned ILR’s Master of Industrial and Labor Relations as a Frances Perkins Scholar and now works in the Accountability Department at the Fair Labor Association, a nonprofit in Washington, D.C.
Focusing on workplace due diligence, she edits the publicly released assessments of factories that produce for the association’s affiliates such as Adidas, Nike and Hugo Boss, making sure they meet fair labor standards.
Occasionally, she has the opportunity to tour a factory in the United States, interviewing workers and factory management directors during an assessment.
“It’s the job I wanted,” Quilici said. “It’s a dream come true.”
As a low-wage worker before returning to school, Quilici had often reflected on her situation.
“As a middle class, white girl, things are never going to get that bad,” she had thought. “Knowing what my privilege offered me and knowing how difficult it still was,” she said, gave her the impetus to work for better conditions for herself and others.
At ILR, Quilici appreciated the experience of the faculty and the flexibility to take courses throughout the university.
“The professors are top notch. They are such a wealth of knowledge and so open,” said Quilici, who lived on campus at Telluride House, as did Frances Perkins, who taught at ILR after serving as the New Deal-era labor secretary.
In Quilici’s work at the Fair Labor Association, she interviewed workers during an assessment last fall of a factory that produces university-licensed products. She often thinks about the direction of manufacturing in the United States.
“I don’t know if these are the jobs we should be fighting to keep in the U.S.,” she said, referring to low-skill, low-pay jobs.
“The workers weren’t making much higher than minimum wage and some had been there for decades. I wonder if we should take a different strategy and start skilling these workers for something else.”
“The loss of manufacturing is only the first wave,” she said. Automation will cost more jobs in other fields, especially in the service sector.
“There is going to be a huge shift,” she said. “Maybe we should focus more on the constant skilling and educating of workers. I think some other countries, like Germany, have done this a little better.”