Broadening the Labor Movement

Organizers of students, farmworkers, retail workers and others speak at Union Days
Thursday, April 9, 2015

Organizers of students, farmworkers, retail workers and others speak at Union Days

Panelists on the Union Days panel entitled “Broadening the Labor Movement, Innovative Organizing” on Tuesday included Sean Sellers, Silvia Fabela, Michelle Jim ’14, Rana Jaleel and Patricia Campos-Medina ’96.

Sellers, a co-founder and senior investigator at the Fair Food Standards Council, spoke about the strides that farmworkers are making in Florida in the tomato industry. He touched upon the success of the Fair Food Program that was spurred into action due to stagnant wages and repeated violence in the fields.

“The Fair Food Program has, in just four years … transformed the Florida tomato industry from ground zero. Ground zero for modern day slavery,” Sellers said. “The program was designed by workers.”

The program looks to increase the price premium paid by corporate purchasers, as well as instill a basic code of conduct to deal with human rights for workers.

Fabela, senior campaign coordinator for Making Change at Walmart, spoke about the power of a grass roots organization and how the group has been “challenging Walmart to be a better employer, but also a better corporation for the country.”

"The six Walton heirs have the same amount of wealth as the bottom 42 percent of the country," Fabela noted in her presentation highlighting the disparity in wealth between the corporation and its workers.

Making Change at Walmart is "a coalition of Walmart associates, union members, small business owners, religious leaders, community organizations, women's advocacy groups, multi-ethnic coalitions, elected officials and ordinary citizens who believe that changing Walmart is vital for the future of our country."

The group looks to strengthen working families, since Walmart is the largest private employer in the United States, she said.

Lim '14 has worked as a strategic campaign organizer for Jobs with Justice, which participated in the successful enactment of the San Francisco Retail Workers’ Bill of Rights. She spoke about how there is a "growing movement around fair scheduling right now.”

"We need to think about how policy can leverage organizing ... policy as a strategic way to create on-ramps for organizing," Lim said.

Jaleel, a postdoctoral fellow at Columbia Law School and an American Association of University Professors National Council member, joined the panel to talk about her experience organizing graduate students at New York University.

She spoke specifically about her time at NYU during the period when the National Labor Relations Board had decided that graduate students were employees and how that spurred activism and organizing on the campus.

Campos-Medina '96, co-director of the New York State/AFL-CIO Union Leadership Institute, spoke about how the Union Leadership Institute works to train union leaders to make the most effective change.

The institute looks to "empower [the participants] to be the leaders of the labor movement," she said.

"In order to be able to change the dynamics ... we have to be a part of those movements," Campos-Medina said.