UCLA Labor Studies launches new residency program for labor movement leaders

The Labor Movement Fellows Program will allow students and faculty to engage with some of the nation’s best labor leaders

UCLA Labor Studies | October 19, 2023

Amid the wave of labor strikes and unionization campaigns that have swept the nation in recent years, a new UCLA program will bring some of the nation’s best labor leaders, organizers and researchers to present public talks and classroom lectures while working on individual labor research projects stemming from their field experiences. 

Modeled as a quarterly residency, the Labor Movement Fellows Program will be anchored by UCLA’s Labor Studies interdepartmental degree program, which is known for connecting students to engaged learning opportunities in worker and social justice organizations across Los Angeles.

“UCLA’s Labor Studies Program has an excellent reputation for its ‘school to movement pipeline,’” said Chris Zepeda-Millan, professor of public policy and Chicana/o and Central American studies and holder of the labor studies chair who is leading the initiative. “With the Labor Movement Fellows Program, we’re flipping that strategy around and bringing the labor movement to our university —it will be an experience students can’t get from their usual readings, lectures and seminar discussions.”

The program will allow organizers time away from their daily work to process, reflect and document valuable lessons that will inform organizing practices and the field of labor studies for years to come. 

“Experienced labor leaders have unique perspectives on the present and future prospects for workplace organizing that are too rarely heard within the university. At the same time, they usually work under grueling conditions that often lead to both physical and mental burnout — leading some to leave movement work altogether,” said Zepeda-Millan. “Our program hopes to create a space where organizers can spend some time on campus reenergizing while sharing their critical insights with the UCLA community.” 

Tobias Higbie, labor historian and director at UCLA’s Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, the campus unit that houses UCLA Labor Studies, expressed enthusiasm for the new program. 

“We’re honored to welcome two innovative organizers to UCLA this fall,” said Higbie. “Building bridges between the movement and the university is at the core of the IRLE mission, and thanks to Professor Zepeda-Millán’s vision for the Labor Movement Fellows program, our students and staff will be able to engage with organizers who are building the future of organized labor.”

The inaugural Labor Movement Fellows are two Los Angeles-based organizers that have been at the forefront of recent education and hospitality worker strikes in the region. We invite you to learn more about the 2023-2024 inaugural Labor Movement Fellows. 

Jollene Levid, United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA)

Jollene Levid has been a full-time union organizer for over 19 years in Los Angeles. For over 8 years, she has been a Regional Organizer at United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), and was co-coordinator of the 2019 UTLA strike and the 2023 UTLA solidarity strike. Previously, she was an organizer with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) where she organized the Committee of Interns and Residents (CIR) and Southern California Public Sector Workers (SEIU-721). Levid was also an organizer for two short campaigns in the Philippines. She was trained and introduced to the labor movement by participating in the 2002 UCLA Labor Center Summer Internship Program.

A survivor and a feminist, organizing with women saved her life. For 21 years, she has been a member of the anti-imperialist, transnational feminist organization AF3IRM, formerly serving as the National Chairperson and currently serving on its International Committee. 

Levid was born and raised in Los Angeles to loving Filipino immigrant parents. She received a Bachelor of Arts degree at UC Irvine in Political Science and Asian American Studies, where she engaged in student movements for Filipino Studies. She received her Masters of Social Work from USC and is a mother and bookworm with a relentless hope in the collective power of women, workers and people.

Levid’s Labor Movement Fellowship Project: Documenting Filipino Labor Organizer Narratives

Levid’s project will focus on documenting the contributions of the community of Filipinos involved in organizing, leading, supporting and participating with other educators in the historic United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) strikes of 2019 and 2023.

“Marginalized communities and stories very rarely get archived, let alone documented. Filipinos in Los Angeles are integral to so many worker struggles — from nurses across LA hospitals to teachers across over 900 public schools,” she said. “I want to highlight some of these stories and document them in order for future students, scholars, and organizers to see themselves in these oral histories or to see parallels between themselves and folks from the Filipino community.”

Levid believes this documentation is important because oral histories catalyzed her own interest in the labor movement. 

“Ethnic Studies and oral histories like that of Philip Vera Cruz, former Filipino UFW farmworker organizer, were the reason I became an organizer,” she said. “My greatest accomplishment would be to document these narratives for the next generation of organizers”

Susan Minato, UNITE HERE Local 11 

Susan Minato is Co-President of UNITE HERE Local 11 –  the union of hotel workers currently on strike in Los Angeles – and represents more than 30,000 workers in the hospitality industry in Southern California and Arizona.  

Minato helped transform UNITE HERE Local 11 to gain a national reputation for training rank-and-file leadership on how to increase union membership, enact progressive public policies and successfully engage in electoral politics.  The union was instrumental in the transformation of California into a blue state and continues to innovate in the areas of economic justice for working families.  

Under her leadership, UNITE HERE Local 11 played a critical role in leading the ground operation in Arizona for the 2020 election successes of President Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and U.S. Senator Mark Kelly and in the 2021 Georgia U.S. Senate runoffs for Ralph Warnock and Jon Osoff. 

A fourth generation Japanese American, Minato started her career in worker justice as a labor lawyer for the Utility Workers Union and later left law to become an organizer and has worked for UNITE HERE Local 11 since 1993. She is an International Executive Vice President for UNITE HERE, Chair of Trustees of the Hospitality Training Academy in Los Angeles and Chair of Worker Power. She serves on the executive boards of the Arizona AFL-CIO, the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor and the UCLA Labor Center.  

Minato lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two sons.

Minato’s Labor Research Project: An analysis of UNITE HERE Local 11’s ecology

UNITE HERE Local 11 is a dynamic, multi-dimensional union based in Southern California and Arizona that has successfully organized workers in a low wage industry and trained hundreds of leaders.  

Minato helped launch one of L.A.’s most influential economic policy think tanks — the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy or LAANE. The union is active in electoral politics and legislative affairs in both California and Arizona that has created a successful political structure shaped by a 501c3, 501 c 4 and a 527 Federal SuperPAC that is complementary to the union’s mission to promote better conditions for working families. 

Minato’s labor research project will develop an analysis of the ecology of UNITE HERE Local 11 to create a curriculum to teach about her union’s intricate structure and its various components.

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