UCLA student organizers get hands-on experience during hot labor summer

By Zeke Reed

Kerckhoff Hall is seen on the UCLA campus. Photo by Amy Ta.

It’s been a hot, hot labor summer in LA. Hollywood writers and actors are still on strike, hotel workers have been on the picket lines, and 11,000 city employees staged a one day action last month. 

During all this organizing, labor studies students at UCLA got a first-hand education through the university’s Labor Summer Fellowship program.

“We are giving our students a hands-on opportunity to engage with unions and workers in a period of tremendous labor activism and diverse, dynamic mobilizations,” says Kent Wong, director of UCLA’s Labor Center.

Students are placed with a labor union over the course of eight weeks and get an in-depth look at the relationship-building and coordination that takes place behind the scenes. 

Wong says a lot of the students drawn to the fellowship see the work as relevant to their own life experience. “Many of them come from working class families and want to improve the wages and working conditions of members of their family and their communities.”

Jasmine Garcia Rodriguez is one of those students. A 2023 UCLA graduate from a working class background, Rodriguez spent the summer with the Los Angeles College Faculty Guild AFT 1521 as they took on the Los Angeles Community College District. 

“We aided and conducted outreach to picket in front of the Board of Trustees’ district office, demand fair compensation for all faculty, [and] ask the board to negotiate in good faith.” 

Her experience showed her just how much work and planning goes into these types of union actions. With the summer over, she plans to help the UCLA Labor Center get other students into field work.

This comes as the entire UC system keeps investing in labor studies, a move that Wong sees as critical to “address the research and education needs of these unions and workers.”

With signs that labor summer might soon become labor fall, those needs will no doubt continue. For Wong, that is truer in Southern California than anywhere else. 

“LA has become the national focal point of the new American labor movement.”