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UCLA Labor Studies introduces new fellowship program for labor movement leaders

The Institute for Research on Labor and Employment is pictured. The labor studies department introduced the Labor Movement Fellows Program this quarter. (Daily Bruin file photo)

By Gabrielle Gillette

Dec. 3, 2023 6:23 p.m.

This post was updated Dec. 3 at 10:24 p.m.

The labor studies department launched a new residency program for labor movement leaders this fall.

The Labor Movement Fellows Program brings leaders and organizers from labor movements across the country to conduct research and lead guest lectures at UCLA. The program provides students with lectures from new resident fellows every academic year. This year has two fellows from labor movements around Los Angeles.

The fellows, Jollene Levid, a regional organizer with United Teachers LA, and Susan Minato, co-president of UNITE HERE Local 11, have also served on public panels and international delegations as part of the program alongside their research and lectures. In November, Minato joined a delegation to Mexico City to promote global worker and union solidarity, where she formed part of a panel discussing hotel union strikes and strategies.

Levid said she hopes to use her residency to create an oral history archive from Filipino teachers who helped organize successful UTLA strikes in 2019 and 2023. She added that the topic is particularly important to her because her experience reading about Filipino labor organizer Philip Vera Cruz as an undergraduate student inspired her to get involved with labor activism.

“The residency program gives us this great opportunity and freedom to decide what kind of project we want to do in the quarter that we’re fellows,” Levid said. “Something that I really was interested in beforehand was uplifting specific narratives within larger labor struggles.”

Levid said while the role of historically marginalized communities in labor movements has been studied to some extent, existing academic research often does not center the perspectives of those communities. She added that this imbalance is something she hopes to address with her research.

Levid also said she feels this residency program could not have launched at a better time, as the current political climate is seeing a new wave of labor movements. Rosemarie Molina, deputy executive director of Unemployed Workers United, said she thinks the political climate is crucial for the transformation of labor movements.

“The labor movement is really popular right now. People are interested in unions more than ever,” she said. “Part of it is because with social media, I think people are seeing things on their phone – they’re seeing workers stand up in a way they haven’t before.”

Some students expressed excitement about the new program.

Lili Rivera, a third-year history student, said the program could help students learn from the fellows how to be proactive in the labor movement.

Molina, who is also a labor studies lecturer, added that she thinks recent strikes by autoworkers, hotel workers and those in the entertainment industry have brought additional attention to the importance of labor studies.

The new program will bring learning benefits to students by exposing them to people who have been directly impacted by labor movements, Molina said.

“We don’t get taught in regular education – in primary education – about our rights, about workers rights, about human rights, about civil rights,” she said. “All of those things come together in the labor movement,” she said.

Molina added that she thought the research from the program will benefit both UCLA and labor movements as a whole. She said students can only learn so much from a classroom, so getting to hear from leaders who are doing labor organizing daily will give students a more diverse learning experience.

Julie Riad, a third-year psychology student, added that she thinks it is important for students to learn from the perspectives of people who have real-world labor movement knowledge.

“It’s really good to be knowledgeable and hear from both sides, but also people who are knowledgeable and understand what they’re talking about, to be able to learn from them,” Riad said.

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