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Retrieved from: https://career.berkeley.edu/article/041001a-sd.stm

Jobs in Labor Unions
January 20, 2006
"For many students, it's counter-intuitive to leave your stint as a cook in the burger joint on your resume and take off the fact that you made dean's list four semesters in a row. But this is exactly what you should do when applying for a job as a union organizer..."
"Academic awards are certainly nice, but it's more important to show that you've got experience doing the kinds of things the people you'll organize do for a living."

Julia Stewart
Assistant Regional Coordinator
Western Region AFL-CIO Organizing Institute
 

Career Center (CC): What is the most important thing Cal students can do to prepare for a career in labor?

Julia Stewart (JS): Get involved in something you care about, take on a fight, and do something to make a difference. There are hundreds of opportunities to get involved in some way. If you can't manage to do at least one of them, it may be hard to show that you're motivated enough to work in the labor movement.

CC: Do internships and other experiences outside of the classroom help students' chances for working in your field? What types of experiences are most valuable?

JS: Experiences gained outside the classroom are incredibly valuable; especially experience doing any kind of activist or organizing work. The UC Berkeley Labor Center and the AFL-CIO offer summer internships to students who are interested in working in the labor movement, which are great ways to get a better picture of unions and what they do.

Working in the labor movement requires you to be able to relate to working people, so it's also important to have some serious work experience, or at least to know what it's like to have a bad job.

CC: What advice would you give to recent grads looking for a job in your field?

JS:

  • Be prepared to work hard. Any kind of activist work requires dedication and commitment, and this usually translates to working long hours. Expect to be critiqued and be willing to learn and improve your skills. Nothing about this work is easy. The stakes are very high. But that's exactly what makes the work so rewarding.
  • The most important qualities in a union organizer are good listening and communication skills, an ability to challenge others to stand up for themselves, and to build a rapport with people from all walks of life.
  • In the interview, stress experiences where you overcame significant obstacles, situations where you worked closely with diverse groups of people, and opportunities to mobilize individuals or groups to take some kind of action.

Job Titles within Unions

  • Organizers recruit and mobilize workers and identify, train and develop workplace leaders. They conduct meetings, trainings and actions to educate people about their rights and to explain the organizing process. They also develop and manage campaigns for union recognition and identify community activists and politicians who will support the cause.
  • Field Representatives represent chapters and members before employers and public agencies. They defend members at disciplinary hearings and research and investigate member and chapter problems.
  • Legislative (Political Action) Advocates develop and pursue a strategic legislative agenda, preparing written fact sheets, letters of support and opposition, and other communications on legislative and administrative issues. They also present written and oral testimony before legislative and administrative bodies and research and analyze legislative proposals introduced by unions and legislators.
  • Researchers support the mission of unions by conducting in-depth economic analyses and industry research to help develop and implement strategic campaigns.
  • Communications Organizers implement communication strategy through public events, union presentations and political campaign messages. They draft newsletter articles, internal communications and talking points, produce media releases, and they hold press conferences and maintain contact with journalists.
  • Business Agents (or Union Executives) provide representation to members through the arbitration level and manage contract negotiations. They also lead internal organizing efforts, train and develop union leadership and communications systems, as well as appear before governmental boards, commissions and councils and endorse candidates for political office.

Other Opportunities in the Field

There are a host of nonprofits working on behalf of workers on both the national and international front. An example is the Asian Immigrant Women Advocates who work with women workers employed in the garment, hotel, restaurant, electronics assembly and other low-wage industries in the Bay Area.

  • Think tanks such as the Economic Policy Institute provide research and education on labor issues.
  • Labor relations and employment law is a viable practice area within the legal profession and includes all areas of the employer/employee relationship.
  • Various government agencies also provide jobs in the field, including the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) which was established to prevent and remedy unfair labor practices by either employers or unions. Field Examiners review claims of grievances and offer technical assistance to those who wish to file charges or petitions.
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