UCLA Labor Summer Fellows share summer organizing memories

Fellows immersed labor and community organizations for the first annual summer statewide fellowship of its kind across UC

UCLA IRLE | September 12, 2023

Just as “hot labor summer” was raging across Los Angeles, the inaugural cohort of UCLA Labor Summer fellows were growing their organizing skills at local labor and community organizations tackling social and economic justice topics at the intersection of race, class, gender and immigration status. 

Beginning in mid-June, fellows attended union meetings, conducted interviews and labor research and joined solidarity actions with current unions on strike such as the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and SAG-AFTRA.

Hosted by the Dream Resource Center at the UCLA Labor Center, this recently-established fellowship program also coincided with the historic expansion of labor centers across the University of California which made the program possible. 

“Labor Summer 2023 is the first statewide project organized by all nine UC Labor Centers. More than 100 youth participated in exciting union and community projects over the summer, and their collective impact will resonate,” said UCLA Labor Center Director Kent Wong. “At a time when worker mobilization is intensifying throughout California and across the country, Labor Summer could not be more timely.”

At UCLA, fellows consisted of 18 undergraduate and graduate students and recent graduates — including 8 labor studies majors. 

At the conclusion of their summer fellowship, participants attended a closing retreat and graduation ceremony in Oakland, California that brought together 134 fellows representing all nine UC Labor Centers.  At the retreat fellows participated in workshops focused on self-care, art and the labor movement and a job fair. They also heard from a distinguished line-up of speakers that included CA: Assembly member Liz Ortega (D- East Bay), Alameda Labor Council Executive Secretary-Treasurer Keith D. Brown, UNITE HERE Local 2 organizer Paola Chacon and Civic Engagement & Faith-Rooted Organizing Deputy Director Saabir Lockett.

Below we received a collection of memories and reflections from this inaugural cohort of UCLA Labor Summer fellows.

UCLA Labor Summer 2023 Fellows:

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Jasmine Garcia Rodriguez (she/her/ella)
Host organization: Los Angeles College Faculty Guild, AFT 1521
UCLA, ‘23, double majored in labor studies and psychology

Over the summer I worked with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) 1521 and their student internship program to advocate for fair learning and working conditions across all nine campuses in the Los Angeles Community College District. The union represents community college faculty and the non-classroom staff: counselors, librarians and specialists. Key issues faculty wish to see resolved in the negotiations ranged from salary increases to smaller class sizes and improving the work environment. 

We aided and conducted outreach to picket in front of the Board of Trustees district office to demand fair compensation for all faculty and to ask the board to negotiate in good faith. Additionally, we aided the student internship program and worked alongside students representing one of the nine campuses. These projects centered around advocacy in student housing and promoting accessibility to student resources such as the Dream Resource Centers at each campus. 

My favorite memory would have to be the solidarity events we attended with AFT 1521 such as supporting and taking part in the UPS Teamsters strike solidarity with the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, and the WGA & SAG-AFTRA picket line in front of Warner Bros. Studios.

Sydney Smanpongse (they/them)
Host organization: Los Angeles College Faculty Guild, AFT 1521

I worked on three different projects that included interviewing current Los Angeles Community College District students, former interns in the program, and advocates in the community such as Board of Trustee members and partner organizations. I also joined the UPS Teamsters and WGA & SAG-AFTRA picket line in solidarity with guild members. 

We also organized a protest at the Board of Trustees meeting to advocate for higher pay for faculty members and smaller class sizes. I contacted union faculty members to mobilize them to show up to the meeting and make their voices heard. 

My favorite memory was showing up to the Board of Trustees meeting with union members and picketing outside of the building. Afterwards, we joined the meeting in support of the speakers who came to address the Board of Trustees and inform them about the needs of LACCD faculty and how the current contract is affecting them.

Karen Magaña (She, her, hers)
Host organization: UFCW 770
UCLA, 4th year Doctoral Candidate in the Department of Education

During my internship I mostly did fieldwork, participated in different rallies and worked on the Stop the Merger campaign between Kroger and Albertsons. I went to different grocery stores around Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley to interview workers about their experiences and concerns about the possible merger. Apart from this, I also worked on making picket signs and supported other unions around Los Angeles by attending their rallies. My favorite activity was attending the rallies and seeing different unions supporting one another.

Lauren Toledo (She/they)
Host organization: APALA LA placed at UNITE HERE Local 11
UCLA, 4th year, double majoring in history and labor studies

Throughout the summer, UNITE HERE Local 11 was on strike fighting for a better contract and fair wages. We accomplished many groundbreaking things such as when union workers fought for temporary, strike-breaking workers to be brought in as permanent workers. 

The fight has not ended, even though my fellowship has, and I am still committed to showing up on the picket lines. I made many connections with my other APALA LA fellows and with everyone involved with the union. I am proud of the strong labor committee I have found and been welcomed by during my time as a Labor Summer fellow. The day-to-day at an office, always on standby during an ongoing strike meant every day was different and related to offering strike support. I feel as though I really learned what it means to organize. I was also able to attend the contract negotiations meeting which deepened my understanding of the greater work I was contributing to and what goes into good faith bargaining.

Every face I met, even though some people I didn’t see again, and personality and life story were so amazing. I felt truly understood and knew this was a very special and beautiful place. I am very grateful for the way I was welcomed by my fellowship and that impact will always stay with me.

Cinthya Torres (she/her)
Host organization: The Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO
UCLA, 4th year, majoring in political science

With the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, we went out to various actions and took an active role in holding down strike lines. We also got some insight into union organizing and different ways to support the labor movement and workers. My favorite event during this summer was an intake clinic we did for rental assistance. It was interesting to see what my community really needed.

Reni Araque (he/him)
Host organization: Los Angeles College Faculty Guild, AFT 1521
UCLA, ‘23, double majored in labor studies and European Literature with German

At my fellowship, I participated in collective bargaining, recruited for the organization, interviewed assembly members and community leaders, lobbied with senators for bills affecting students, supported social media campaigns, engaged in community outreach initiatives including phone calls, emails and texts, and attended other solidarity picket lines. My favorite memory was interviewing Assemblymember Mike Fong but I also genuinely loved giving my speech at the Labor Summer closing retreat.

Uriel Perez (he/him)
Host organization: UCLA Labor Center
UCLA, ‘22, majored in Chicana/o and Central American studies

I attended different union meetings with Building Skills Partnership and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Overall, my work consisted of condensing different labor-related issues into a workshop for high school students. My favorite memory would be meeting adults engaged in organizing — the meeting with maintenance workers was uplifting.

Bryzen Enzo Morales (he/him/his)
Host organization: Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance-Los Angeles Chapter (APALA-LA)
UCLA, 2nd year, double majoring in public affairs and economics

This summer, another Labor Summer fellow, Dorene Pilapandet, and I collaborated to create a magazine that highlights the legacy of labor activism of Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander individuals in the United States. We explored different histories of the A/ANHPI movement from the Hilo Massacre of 1938 in Hawaii to the current strike of writers and actors. We were inspired to use the theme of the 2023 UCLA Labor Summer opening retreat, “Past, Present, and Future,” to create this magazine.

One of my favorite memories was bonding and connecting with my co-fellows during the retreats. Being able to hear their life stories, their struggles and their “whys” in joining the labor movement made me realize that the fight for worker justice is vibrant and unstoppable.

Luz Silva (she/her)
Host organization: The Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO
UCLA, 4th year, double majoring in labor studies and psychology

Throughout the summer, I engaged in various activities like data entry, campaign canvassing, organizing meetings, tenant organizing, strike training, and rental and utility assistance. One of my favorite memories was meeting fellows from other schools.

Edgar Perez (he/him/his)
Host organization: Building Skills Partnership
UCLA, ‘23, majored in labor studies with a minor in urban and regional studies

I helped register SEIU-United Service Workers West members specifically janitorial, security and LAX workers for ESL, Citizenship and Digital Literacy classes. I also gave presentations in their respective classes with Lisbeth, another Labor Summer fellow, about our services as well as information on health and wellness. Lastly, I proctored exams being taken by the workers that recorded their learning progress. 

My favorite memory from Labor Summer was the closing retreat and spending time with friends I had made from UC Riverside. I enjoyed meeting people from all the UCs as it was a very enriching experience and it was empowering to see how we all came together to contribute our efforts to the labor movement.

Isabel Lainez (she/her/ella)
Host organization: Center for Immigration Law and Policy (CILP) at the UCLA School of Law
UCLA, ‘23, majored in Chicana/o and Central American studies with a minor in labor studies

This summer, I was able to help with research to ensure the success of the Opportunity for All (O4A) campaign. My favorite memory was attending the closing retreat in Oakland and being able to meet organizers from the Bay Area and students at other UC campuses and hearing the amazing work they did for the labor movement.

Yessenia Sanchez Cruz (she/her)
Host organization: UCLA Labor Center
UCLA, 3rd year, majoring in political science

During my experience with the UCLA Labor Center, I picked up invaluable education about advocacy for my community, which is fellow undocumented students, and how the labor movement intersects with my background. It has been a wonderful journey learning about the intricate steps of organizing, while also practicing skills such as networking and communication which will aid my future endeavors in activism. Working with my mentors, I not only managed to learn through their own experiences but also learned of the broader community which fights for justice and equality daily. It gave me hope and an outlook of inspiration to continue engaging with advocacy in my school community and beyond.

Kaytlyn Rivas (she/her/ella)
Host organization: Hospitality Training Academy (HTA) 
UCLA, ‘23, double majored in gender studies and labor studies

At the Hospitality Training Academy (HTA), I mainly helped form training plans for new employees. I read through manuals and contracts and helped build a website that trained case managers and summarized those manuals in a more digestible manner. I also helped students outreach and create a student handbook. Getting to meet the amazing people who worked at HTA was one of my favorite memories. I met some very kind and caring people who wanted nothing but the best for their students. Getting to go to the kitchen to watch students prepare complicated meals was always fun too.

Vianney Caravantes (she/her)
Host organization: Undocumented Student Program (USP)
UCLA, 4th year, double majoring in English and psychology

With the Undocumented Student Program at UCLA, we initiated the goals of the Labor Summer fellowship by developing comprehensive toolkits that provide valuable work resources specifically tailored for undocumented students. Additionally, we actively engaged in outreach efforts to expand the range of work opportunities available to undocumented students with the ultimate goal of enhancing their access to meaningful employment. I found a community and a home with the Undocumented Student Program. I was placed in this host site with a Dream Summer fellow whom I bonded extremely well with and gained a new friend. I loved being able to provide support to other undocumented students who are impacted daily. I loved every memory I had this summer.

Ana Lara (she/they)
Host organization: Undocumented Student-Led Network (USN)
UCLA, Masters Candidate in Library Science

I was part of an amazing story collection project in which we interviewed current undocumented students about their reactions to the “Opportunity4ALL” campaign and how all our dreams are part of the organizing and development efforts. This project is a love letter for us, from us. Undocumented power is everywhere in all of our stories. A favorite memory of mine was getting the chance to travel to Oakland and feel a lot more comfortable traveling.