Young Worker Education Project brings worker justice issues to LAUSD high schools

Union leaders, UCLA undergraduate students, and labor activists coached high school students through a collective bargaining simulation.

By Nicolle Fefferman and Jazmin Rivera | June 15, 2023

At John Marshall High School in Los Angeles, a cafeteria full of students hummed with hushed conversations. Under the guidance of coaches, the students were about to embark on a four-hour collective bargaining simulation, during which they would learn about labor rights by roleplaying negotiations between a union and its management counterpart. Soon, the cafeteria’s volume steadily increased from a buzz to a roar. Students eagerly dove into impassioned debates over fair wages, healthcare costs, and raises.

This spring, the Young Workers Education Project (YWEP) visited four high schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District — Garfield High School, Taft High School, John Marshall High School, and San Pedro High School — to coach hundreds of high school students through a collective bargaining simulation under the mentorship of local union leaders, UCLA undergraduate students, and labor activists.

The YWEP is derived from the curriculum developed by Linda Tubach and Patty Litwin, two high school teachers and labor activists who originated the dynamic simulation-driven curriculum that engages students in labor history, the ethics of global economics, and collective bargaining. Nicolle Fefferman, director of the YWEP, spent this spring updating their program with current young worker organizing cases and developed new relationships with union leaders and labor activists. It’s these labor leaders that volunteer and guide LAUSD students through the simulations.

“I have truly enjoyed being a coach and will continue to do so for as long as possible,” says Maria Riggs, president of OPEIU Local 537. “I see these simulations as a great way to offer life’s experiences in the workforce to these young workers, most of whom haven’t even experienced their first job. Hopefully, they will be fortunate to work for a union but, even if not, they will be better employees and employers.”

UCLA undergraduate students enrolled in professor Janna Shadduck-Hernandez’s Labor Studies course “Working Families and Educational Inequalities in Urban Schools” attended the collective bargaining sessions as volunteers. With the help of the UCLA Labor Center’s community education specialist, Jazmin Rivera, the UCLA undergraduate volunteers jumped into action to provide the high school students with coaching and advice between rounds of bargaining—not just about the simulation, but about their college experience as well. 

“Sitting in as a coach in these simulations allowed me to witness the cogs in the student’s brains spin [as] they pondered outside-of-the-box for ways to successfully state their points and reach their desired outcomes,” says Nathan Cabrera, a UCLA undergraduate. “Their passion and engagement with the activity surprised me, but further inspired my interest in pursuing education and working as a teacher.”

“I learned that [union negotiations] can be a long process, and you have to really listen to the other person’s needs in order to come to an agreement that benefits everyone,” wrote a Marshall High School student.

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