Why Union Summer is so important to organized labor


(May 11, 2017) — Last year I had the privilege of serving as the Field Director for Raise Up Washington, the coalition behind the successful higher minimum wage and paid sick leave initiative. Through the campaign I was introduced to the Union Summer program. Many of our union partners participated in Union Summer, and because of that I got to know all of the participants. They were an incredible asset to the Raise Up team, and we were lucky to have them working alongside us.

Shortly after the Union Summer program ended, Raise Up Washington was preparing to hire additional organizers. Two interns from Union Summer applied, and I was thrilled to hire them both.

These two interns had two very different paths to the Union Summer program. One was a woman of color and a recent college graduate who had no experience with the labor movement before, but a friend’s mother told her about the program, so she decided to give it a try.

The other happened into the program by complete coincidence. He had recently moved to the area and was looking to start an apprenticeship program in hopes that it would help him find a job. He walked into the first Union Summer meeting thinking it was an apprenticeship meeting and ended up loving it so much when they asked him to stay he said yes. As a young person of color hearing this group of labor leaders and interns discussing things like racial equity, social justice issues and income inequality he quickly realized he was exactly where he needed to be. He immediately signed up to join the program for the summer.

These two interns came from very different backgrounds, and they are backgrounds that are too often left out of the labor movement. Much like the experience of our first intern, recent college graduates do not see the labor movement as a path to create change within their community.

My undergraduate major in college was Community Development. My peers at school were energized and ready to graduate and get to work on the issues that drove them. They were excited to take jobs with local government agencies or nonprofits, but unfortunately not one of those peers saw the labor movement as a place to better their communities. And, as is the case of our second intern, many of those coming to the labor movement see it simply as a pathway to a solid job, and it is that, but it is also so much more.

The Union Summer program brings people from all different walks of life into the labor family and we as a movement are much better for it. The program takes care to recruit diverse candidates, pair them with unions that would be a good fit for their skill set, educate them on the history of the labor movement, and show them all aspects of the work we do.

The program has a clear track record of success. Not only does every intern leave with a better understanding and appreciation of the labor movement, many have even chosen to stay working in this field — including one of the interns I hired at Raise Up Washington who is now a union organizer!

For all of these reasons and more, my union, UFCW 21, is excited to participate in this year’s Union Summer program, and I can’t wait to welcome our new intern.

Samantha Grad is Political and Legislative Organizer for UFCW 21, the largest private-sector union in Washington state with more than 46,000 members working in grocery store retail health care and other industry jobs. 

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