Labor Center Directorship Transitions

9 September, 2022

Dear Members of the Labor Center community:

It has been an honor to serve you and the labor movement as Director of the UMass Amherst Labor Center. These last four years have been ones of rebuilding, and I am proud to report that the Labor Center is back at full strength and ready to do the important work ahead.

Under my leadership and with the invaluable help of faculty, staff, students, alumni, and the wider labor movement, the Center is now on stable footing after a time of uncertainty.

We have made significant improvements in a number of areas. The first is staffing and operations. Whereas the Center’s full-time staff person was once funded on “soft money” and classified at a level that did not reflect the scope of the job, I pushed to move that position to a permanent state line and have it reclassified as an associate directorship. I also instituted a regular weekly meeting of our administrative team consisting of myself as director, Graduate Program Director Clare Hammonds, Associate Director Nellie Taylor, and Graduate Programs Manager Summer Cable. Combined with our monthly Labor Studies Committee meetings with faculty, staff, and residential students, these improvements have systemized our work.

We have increased communication with the wider labor movement and streamlined the intake and hiring process for partner unions and graduate student interns. Additionally, whereas our students interned primarily for the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, Massachusetts Building Trades Council, the Massachusetts Teachers Association, and the Greater Boston Labor Council, over the last four years, we have dramatically broadened that network. Our partner unions now also include the North Atlantic Regional Council of Carpenters, the Western Massachusetts Area Labor Federation, AFT-Massachusetts, District 1199 New England SEIU, SEIU Local 888, the Maine State Employees Association, AAUP (UConn), UFCW Local 2013, the UFCW International, CWA, and the national AFL-CIO.

Despite the pandemic we have increased and stabilized student enrollments at all levels. For each of the past two years, we have taught over 200 undergraduate students and thereby exceeded the benchmark negotiated with the administration for undergraduate enrollment. We have done so in part by offering two new courses, each of which has grown in popularity: Sports, Labor and Social Justice, taught by Jerry Levinsky, and Women and Work, taught by Clare Hammonds. Our traditional undergraduate courses, taught by Tom Juravich and Liana Foxvog, continue to draw strong numbers. On average, we have had the pleasure of teaching a cohort of twelve residential Masters students each year (another agreed-upon benchmark). With the exception of the January 2022 residency which was hit suddenly with the omicron variant, our intensive residencies for the Union Leadership and Activism (ULA) program have hosted at least 40 students every January and July. This is in part due to the fact that the Labor Center established a new track of our Masters program in 2021, ULA for Educators, designed for teachers and education support professionals in K-12 and higher education.

Finally, we are recruiting graduate cohorts with more racial diversity and gender balance each year, reflecting the demographics of the wider workforce and labor movement. For example, whereas our residential classes have been nearly all white and all male since I arrived, our incoming residential cohort has five women, five men, and two non-binary individuals; of these, five are people of color. We have made headway on this important objective by actively recruiting and shaping each class. As the first director of color in Labor Center history, I have made it a personal mission to recruit a diverse ULA faculty. Several faculty members of color have taught in the ULA program over the past four years, including Sheri Davis, Cynthia Hewitt, Armando Ibarra, Alejandro Reuss, Dean Robinson, Erica Smiley, and Natalicia Tracy.

I am grateful to all of you for the confidence you have placed in me, but I could not have done it without you. I want to thank Nellie Taylor and Summer Cable for making it all go; Elaine Bernard, Harris Freeman, Pat Greenfield, Gordon Lafer, Jerry Levinsky, and Priscilla Murolo for their sage advice over the years; our amazing graduate student caucus whose feedback has made the program better than when they were in it; and our friends in the Massachusetts labor movement, especially Steve Tolman, Frank Callahan, Chrissy Lynch, Darlene Lombos, Rich Rogers, Jim Snow, Tom Clarke, David Minasian, Lisa Clauson, and Max Page. Last but not least, I want to single out my faculty colleagues, Clare Hammonds, Jasmine Kerrissey, Tom Juravich, and Eve Weinbaum, for standing behind me every step of the way. Thank you for everything.

I now pass the torch on to our new director, Jasmine Kerrissey, in a time of Labor Center stability and Labor Movement ascendancy. I look forward to her leadership in these consequential years.

In Solidarity,

Cedric de Leon
Professor of Sociology & Labor Studies and Past Director
UMass Amherst Labor Center