Action for Justice: The Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor

Earlier this fall, Working-Class Perspectives affiliated with the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor.  The Initiative reflects one of Georgetown University’s core ideas, as University President John J. DeGioia stated during his 2001 inauguration: “For Georgetown, the service of justice means engaging harsh realities head on.” In order to advance Catholic social teaching as it relates to labor and worker justice, the University launched the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor (KI) in 2009.  Under the leadership of labor historian  Joseph A. McCartin, we engage questions of workers’ rights and the future of the labor movement. Grounded in Georgetown’s commitment to just employment and Catholic social teaching on the rights of workers, our mission to develop creative strategies and innovative public policy to improve workers’ lives in a changing economy translates into many actions: teaching, mentoring, challenging, building bridges, and incubating projects that forward the respect of labor and dignity of workers.

First, we teach. From encouraging students to take labor-related courses to advising their research in issues affecting the working poor, the Kalmanovitz Initiative guides the educational experiences of many undergraduate students at Georgetown. We emphasize the role of the intersectionality in labor history and economic justice, racial justice, and working-class studies. Our teaching also extends beyond the classroom into the realm of popular education. In collaboration with DC Action Lab, we sponsor organizing trainings where students learn campaign strategy, tactics, power mapping, and some other crucial elements of successful organizing efforts. Facilitated by local grassroots activists Virginia Leavell and Sam Miller, our student discuss the aspects that make a group a strong and effective vehicle for change on the community, especially developing a strong, sustaining group that can withstand leadership turnover. In short, these trainings are designed to stress the power and value of community organizing to undergraduate students.

Second, we mentor and support the next generation of student activists and social justice advocates. Under our sponsorship, Clara Mejía Orta traveled to Immokalee, Florida to join students at  the Student/Farmworker Alliance’s annual Encuentro in fall 2015. Encuentro is an annual convening of students and young people in Immokalee, Florida where they learn about the food justice movement and reflect in solidarity with farmworkers. Now an organizer for the Houston Area American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, Citlalli Álvarez worked as an Organizing Summer intern with our community partner DC Jobs with Justice. Even more, we also mentor and guide the next generation of public servants. In summer 2015, after two years of serving as the program manager at the Kalmanovitz Initiative Vail Kohnert-Yount joined the US Department of Labor as Special Assistant in their International Labor Affairs Department. Sarah David Heydemann who served as Administrator as well as Program Advisor and is now studying law at the Northeastern University School of Law and was recently awarded the Michael Weiner Scholarship for Labor Studies. Truly, our alumni are a part of an invaluable network that actively introduces Georgetown students and recent graduates to the labor movement.

Third, we challenge current labor practices through academic research and synergetic engagement with labor organizations, non-profits, academic associations, and community partners. This summer, the Initiative released two key reports and hosted and co-sponsored two important labor gatherings. The first report,  “Unpredictable, Unsustainable: The Impact of Employers’ Scheduling Practices in DC,” addressed retail and restaurant/food service scheduling practices in Washington, DC. The second,  “Just Employment in Action: Adjunct Unionization and Contract Negotiation at Georgetown University,” discussed Georgetown University’s contract with its union of adjunct professors and how the University followed its own Just Employment Policy enacted in 2005. Both of these reports have been widely featured in The Washington Post and Chronicle of Higher Education. The release of these two reports followed the two conferences we hosted earlier in the summer:  Fighting Inequality, the joint conference of the Labor and Working-Class History Association and the Working-Class Studies Association; and fifth annual national Labor Research and Action Network conference. By supporting impactful research, and working to convene people with various affiliations, we promote unique problem solving collaborations between different groups and individuals.

Subsequently, we support sabbaticals for labor activists to allow them time and support to develop new ideas. Notably, our 2012 Practitioner Fellow Michelle Miller researched historical precedents for alternative organizing models, which culminated in the creation the digital platform dedicated to workplace advocacy, She recently moderated a Town Hall with President Barack Obama at the White House Summit on Worker Voice. Likewise, our 2011 Practitioner Fellow Edgar Aranda-Yanoc investigated alternative grassroots and social media strategies to enforce wage theft judgments. Currently engaged in the leadership the Virginia Coalition of Latino Organizations, Edgar continues to advocate on behalf of migrant workers. Thus, we encourage the transformation of their ideas into action by providing activists a place to retreat from their day to day routine.

Last but not least, we incubate programs that address the problems of the working poor. Our current project is the Jesuit Just Employment Project (JJEP), which seeks to advance campus employment practices that reflect our shared values of dignity, respect, and justice. Prepared in conjunction with the Harrison Institute for Public Law, the model aligns employment practices with catholic social teaching and jesuit values. Not only does the model provide for a living wage, but it also respects the right of employees to unionize as well as it guarantees a safe and dignified workplace. It also ensures access to community resources such as the library, bus shuttles, and ESL courses for all campus workers. With Pope Francis calling to the end of an economy of exclusion, the JJEP could not be more timely and more pertinent.

None of our work would be possible if we weren’t constantly building bridges of solidarity with other organizations. Our partners include the The Harrison Institute for Public Law whom we collaborate on projects addressing worker strategies, procurement and human rights; the Center for Social Justice Research, Teaching & Service (CSJ) with whom we collaborate on our alternative break program Worker Justice DC; the Employment Justice Center, the Organizing Neighborhood Equity – ONE DC, and DC Jobs with Justice with whom we work on economic equity, ongoing worker justice campaigns, and advocacy projects; the Center for Multicultural Equity & Access (CMEA) and the Georgetown Scholarship Program (GSP) who actively refer their students (many the first in their families to go to college) to work with us. In sum, together we combine all that we are to engage in solidarity with workers and promote a just and more inclusive economy for all.

Jessica F. Chilin-Hernandez

Jessica F. Chilin-Hernández serves as program advisor and administrator to the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor at Georgetown University. She is originally from San Salvador, El Salvador.

This entry was posted in Class and Education, Contributors, Guest Bloggers, Issues, Labor and Community Activism and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Action for Justice: The Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor

  1. pjwmia says:

    It is wonderful to know large organizations are attempting to educate people on worker justice issues. If we can convince people in this country to expect worker justice perhaps some multinational corporations will try to export the concept to some outsourced suppliers. That is probably wishful thinking but there is hope. Thanks for your informative write up.


  2. Pingback: Action for Justice: The Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor | Working-Class Perspectives | Activate! Justice: Talk about money and moral wrongs

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