Wednesday, March 13, 2013

New York Union Semester: Gaining Experience And Academic Credit

Nicole Wallace, a double-major in Political Science and Economics in the Verrazano Class of 2013, is participating in the New York Union Semester this spring.  This is an internship opportunity where students work with an NYC union while studying the labor movement and economic and social policy issues.  Read below to learn more about Nicole's experience applying for this opportunity and her first few weeks at the internship - in her own words.
Nicole Wallace dressed as the grim reaper for her internship.
After interning at the New York City Comptroller’s Office in the labor law department this past summer, I knew I wanted a career in the labor field. However, I wasn’t quite sure how to get involved in that kind of career area. After my internship ended, I took a position as a Contracts intern at the New York City Economic Development Corporation. However, something was seriously missing in my life. I wanted to get back into the business of helping people fight their employers who were seriously underpaying them. While scrolling through my emails one afternoon, I came across one from the School of Professional Studies. It was advertising for their labor studies/labor union program, called New York Union Semester, at the Joseph A. Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies. The email said that accepted students would be interning 32 hours a week at a labor union and taking four courses in labor studies at the Murphy Institute. CUNY students would be able to get an e-permit and apply those four courses to courses needed at their home college. In addition, all students would receive a certification in labor studies after completion. As I continued reading the application details, happiness and joy filled my heart. It was the perfect opportunity for me and exactly what I had been yearning for.

After completing the application, sending my transcript, and nailing a phone interview with the coordinator, Naomi Fatt, I secured a position with the program. I was excited and couldn’t wait to begin my journey. After a four day orientation at the end of January, all the interns had the opportunity to interview with 7 labor unions. The next day each of the interns would be assigned to work for one of the unions. I was nervous because I desperately wanted to work for the Transit Workers Union (TWU). My father was a bus operator and I have immense respect for all transit workers because of that. My interview with TWU went well. I spoke clearly and slowly and was confident when answering their questions. 

The next day I sat patiently with the rest of the interns, one of whom has been my best friend since I was eight and a member of the Macaulay Honors Program at CSI - Kelly DePietro. She wanted badly to be assigned to the Communication Workers Unions. We waited for Naomi to come back into the orientation room with the news. Soon she came in with little slips of paper. Of course having the last name Wallace, I was the last person to receive my slip. I opened it slowly and then looked down at the small slip that read:

Nicole Wallace
Transit Workers Union Local 100

I jumped up with joy and smiled at my friend who was also assigned to her first choice union. After, we all went out to celebrate with some food and drinks (non-alcoholic of course). It was Friday, and Monday would be my first day.

My first week was comprised of the usual - working on projects, attending meetings and making phone calls to union members. Although my boss felt bad that he was assigning me what he felt to be menial tasks, I was so excited to be a part of an organization that fought for transit worker’s rights that I did not mind the work one bit.

As my second week approached, my boss thought I may be interested in a campaign they had been working on. The TWU was trying to campaign to get support for their three point plan on how to reduce incidents and fatalities on the train tracks. Since January 1, 2013, seventeen customers had been pushed, shoved, fallen or jumped onto the train tracks. The TWU was not only concerned their customers but also about the transit workers who were suffering severe psychological issues after having hit someone on the tracks. I was very interested in the campaign they were working on. Their main goal was to get the MTA to have workers slow down to 10 mph as they approach the stations. As my boss was explaining the campaign, I was thrilled he has asked me to be a part of it. I was eager to start making flyers or perhaps he would even let me write an article for the Union newsletter. Then all of sudden he asked “So would you like to dress up as the grim reaper and hand out bloody metro cards at city hall?” I was stunned. He explained that they weren’t real bloody metro cards, but fake paper metro cards with fake blood stains on them. The back of the cards had three bullet points with information that promoted their three point plan. I immediately agreed and thought to myself, although I never expected I would be doing this, "I am always up for new adventures."

The next day I dressed up as the grim reaper and handed out the metro cards to hundreds of people. Newscasters swarmed the area and a lot of people were eager to take pictures with me. Even though I was on cloud nine because I felt like a celebrity, I realized the reason I was so happy wasn’t because everyone wanted my picture. It was because everyone was interested in the cause I was fighting for. Several people stopped to ask my how they could help more and what they could do to lend their support. I informed people that they could go to the local100 website and sign the online petition. Many people agreed to do so and I felt like the campaign was a success. Through my first two weeks at the TWU, I learned an important life lesson. One person alone can’t make a difference, but together we can. And if standing outside for three hours in the cold dressed as the grim reaper means saving just one life, then I’d take on the task any day. 

To learn more about the New York Union Semester and access the application, please visit: 

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