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Union Summer ‘family’ is labor’s future


SEATTLE (Aug. 23, 2019) — At noon on June 25, 14 interns walked into the offices of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO ready to embark on their Union Summer journeys. I was lucky to be their Union Summer Coordinator.

Union Summer is a six-week paid internship through the WSLC that introduces a group of young people to the labor movement, organizing, and intersectional social justice work. This year, the WSLC worked with 12 union and organization sponsors to host the interns, who spent half the week with their sponsor working on individual projects and then came together at the end of every week for education and action days.

The WSLC Union Summer Class of 2019.

A typical week could include working on a project such as the cannabis workers’ union with UFCW 21, touring and learning the labor history of Chinatown/International District with Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance AFL-CIO (APALA), and attending City of Seattle public hearings in support of Seattle hotel workers.

Every year, the WSLC recruits a diverse set of individuals to the program, differing in age, hometown, personal relationships to labor, and more. This year, the interns were recent high school graduates, current union members, college students, and community activists with a big desire to be more involved. The reasons for applying to the internship varied, but there was one consensus: that the lives of working people matter and affect each and every one of us.

As a former intern of the 2018 cohort, I had just stepped out of the position that the new interns were stepping into, and still had so much to learn. In a short six weeks, Union Summer provides an overflow of knowledge that most going into the program do not previously hold. Union Summer allows relationship building, networking, and forms bonds that are unbreakable. It truly does become a family.

Union Summer intern Maxwell Turner speaks during the Intergenerational Communication panel on July 26 at the 2019 WSLC Convention. Also pictured: IBT’s Shaunie Wheeler James and panel moderator Kooper Caraway.

Over the six weeks of the 2019 Union Summer Program, I saw 14 interns grow in their advocacy for working people, in public speaking skills, and in their willingness to help each other and those they met along the way. I was extremely proud of this cohort and their dedication to everything they were asked to do — from phone banking and canvassing to representing the Union Summer program during WSLC’s three-day 2019 Convention.

A couple of the interns traveled all the way from Enumclaw and Lacey every morning to be a part of the internship. Some of the interns attend school out of state and were getting ready to go back as the internship came to a close. All of them worked long days and yet they put their all into it. As the Union Summer Program Coordinator, I deeply appreciated each and every one of them.

This year, I was able to step into leadership and learn new things that supplemented what I previously learned as an intern. It is easy to come into work every day when you’re working with leaders who push and make opportunity for you. I highly encourage more unions, organizations, students, and community members to get involved in the Union Summer program. I have no doubt that it will evolve and flourish into something even greater than it already has been.

Union Summer has a special place in my heart. The cohorts of 2018 and 2019 are who I hope to work alongside in the years to come. The people I’ve been introduced to along the way inspire me to stay in the labor movement. And to next year’s Union Summer 2020, I wish you the best on your journey.

Rashea Dickey served as Program Coordinator for the WSLC’s 2019 Union Summer program.

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