Campus staff showcase worker radio at national conference

Daria Fisk and Joe Connolly of the Labor/Management Workplace Education Program and radio team participant Joel Gomarlo led a workshop on the use of worker radio in workplace education programs at the annual conference of the Association of Joint Labor/Management Education Programs held Oct. 24 in New York City.

Since 1996, LMWEP has been broadcasting “UpFront,” a weekly radio program by frontline workers on issues of community, diversity, and social justice. The program was first conceived by Housing Service maintainer and AFSCME member Fabian Berrios to allow frontline workers entry into the conversation around these issues and to bring a workers'' perspective to the dialogue.

The program, which was funded by a grant from the Chancellor’s Office, has received regional recognition and has been profiled by Catholic Communications in Springfield. A representative of the labor ministry in the Peoples Republic of China also sought information on the program, according to Connolly.

"Worker radio is an opportunity to make more real the learning of communication, teamwork, and time management skills,” said Connolly. “It demystifies themes like community, diversity, and social justice. It offers visibility to frontline workers who often find themselves invisible. It allows our program to create dialogue between frontline worker-learners and movers ‘n’ shakers like legislators, writers, industry leaders, union leaders, and community activists. And through worker radio we harness a learner-friendly technology to make an impact beyond the four walls of a classroom... all this at minimal cost. The association is the most prestigious gathering of worker educators in the country; to offer a workshop here means a lot to our program."

Although organizations such as the Institute for Career Development and the New England Health Care Employee Unions, District 1199/SEIU and the Connecticut Nursing Homes Training and Upgrading Fund have shared model writing programs at association conferences, the worker radio presentation was a first, said Connolly and may be the only worker education radio program in the country. Several programs in attendance were excited about the possibility of launching similar efforts with their learners, he added.

"Worker radio is lively, fun, and terrifically rewarding. Getting frontline workers together with co-workers and with legislators, professors, students, and community leaders bridges class divides and challenges everybody to see things from another perspective,” said UpFront coordinator Daria Fisk. “At our workshop, when Joel Gomarlo stepped up and started speaking, suddenly everyone leaned forward in their seats, a hush came over the group, and a feeling of full attention and presence enveloped us. His frank, open manner and direct, insightful comments enthralled the group and really impressed them with how real and immediately gripping it was being able to interact with him, upfront and in person. In just a few moments he single-handedly lifted the veil of distance and difference that people in suits, with fancy titles and degrees can find separating them from hard-working frontline workers.

"Someone such as myself who hasn''t had a lot of education, I''ve been prejudiced against intellects, thinking they were against me,” said Gomarlo, a maintainer with Housing Services. “But the radio show helps me go beyond my prejudices to see different points of view and to realize people are just people. And that has made a big difference for me and my ability to communicate. I want to thank the people who have put these programs together because it''s given me the ability to realize my abilities."

Following the conference, Marshall Goldberg, executive director of the association, said, "The workshop on use of radio in worker education got across-the-board excellent reviews. One evaluator noted, ‘This presentation really opened my eyes to another avenue for giving workers a voice.’ Making use of radio in this way shows what comes with the power of imagination and a dedication to frontline workers. Incidentally, that maintainer, Joel Gomarlo... What an outstanding guy."