Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

One Union Summer Later, Three Found Their Calling as Organizers

January 25th, 2016 | Sonia Huq

Tarah Taylor, Patricia Recinos, Shaine Griffin, Lynda Berg

MFullSizeRendereet Tarah Taylor, Lynda Berg and Shaine Griffin from the class of Union Summer 2014. These superstar summeristas are working alongside nurses, and one another, as union organizers with California Nurses Association/National Nurses United in the fight for working people. Now the three of them work together in Southern California, and Shaine and Tarah are even roommates.

Organizing Origins

Taylor found out about Union Summer 30 minutes before applications were due. Though she just squeezed in, Taylor had the fire of an organizer burning inside of her. She already had stood up to Sprint for herself and co-workers over a convoluted practice of docking some workers’ regular pay to pay other workers’ overtime. She started a petition that went viral and lost a job she loved over it. As an organizer, she knows personally what is at stake for working people when they stand up and why they are stronger together.

Griffin worked on the Retail Action Project as a Union Summer intern in Manhattan and saw firsthand the issues of wages, scheduling and overt racist policies that retail workers faced. “Union Summer was awesome and eye-opening. On the campaign, it was disturbing to see how groups of people were being systematically devalued,” Griffin said.

Away from the city and, seemingly, in the middle of nowhere, Berg’s team was on more challenging terrain. “It’s a space in which, historically, workers have been mistreated, literally, all the way back to slavery,” Berg said, describing how tough, but necessary, the work is in organizing migrant farm workers in North Carolina.

So, What Does It Take?

If you know Union Summer graduates, you know they are the fiercest social justice and labor activists around. The work of organizing attracts people with incredible grit, passion and resourcefulness. Though she continues to glean knowledge from senior organizers, Griffin said, “You can’t teach organizing, you fly or you flounder.”

A Life’s Calling

Taylor gained valuable insight working with the teachers who put their hearts and souls into their profession and always stood up for their students when fighting to improve conditions for themselves. She finds that nurses feel a similar duty to their patients and their will to improve working conditions is simultaneously tied to improving patient care.

On working with nurses, Taylor said, “What drives my passion is the intimate bonds that I have formed with the individual nurses. They invite you into their lives, you become friends, and it’s really cool when you see them grow and test their own power within the system.”

Berg echoes the sentiment, “I’ll have a really incredible conversation with a nurse and it affirms that this is what I am supposed to do: ultimately, it’s a drive you have.”

These three summeristas have made a commitment beyond organizing workplaces to that of creating social change that reverberates through an entire community. As they are inspired by the nurses’ stories, their commitment inspires us to care about nurses and how their stories are tied into the struggles and victories of all working people.

This blog originally appeared in aflcio.org on January 21, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Sonia Huq is the Organizing Field Communications Assistant at the AFL-CIO.  She grew up in a Bangladeshi-American family in Boca Raton, Florida where she first learned a model of service based on serving a connected immigrant cultural community. After graduating from the University of Florida, Sonia served in the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps and later worked for Manavi, the first South Asian women’s rights organization in the United States. She then earned her Master’s in Public Policy from the George Washington University and was awarded a Women’s Policy Inc. fellowship for women in public policy to work as a legislative fellow in the office of Representative Debbie Wasserman (FL-23). Sonia is passionate about working towards a more just society and hopes to highlight social justice issues and movements through her writing.

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