Studying Contemporary Labor Issues

Jasmine Kerrissey
Friday, September 27, 2013

Jasmine Kerrissey joined the UMass Amherst Sociology department as an assistant professor last fall, teaching both undergraduate and graduate courses. She also works with students in the Labor Center on a wide range of research projects. “The Labor Center and the Sociology Department are a perfect home for me. I’m excited to be part of a growing group of scholars who are interested in researching contemporary labor issues,” Kerrissey says.

When she was younger, Kerrissey “dabbled” in social justice activism, ranging from environmental education to anti-sweatshop organizing. She found herself drawn to activism related to the workplace. After graduation from Cornell’s Industrial and Labor Relations program, Kerrissey became a union organizer, working mostly with low-wage, and immigrant workers. The experience at the turn of the 21st century was both rewarding and defeating. While Kerrissey was part of successful campaigns, like Justice for Janitors, she also went through many anti-union campaigns and losses.

“This mix, is what led me to academia,” Kerrissey says. “I use a sociological perspective to research labor movements both in the US and abroad. I’m particularly interested in understanding how worker organizations impact individuals and societies beyond wages…I also take a global comparative approach to understanding the impacts of labor movements.”

Kerrissey tries to teach skills that are relevant for real-life application in all of her courses. Since much of her research revolves around labor and the work force, she wants to help students develop the ability to navigate their work lives after graduation. “I’ve been extremely impressed with the undergraduate students who have taken my courses. I’ve found them to be inquisitive and thoughtful, which makes discussion quite lively,” says Kerrissey.

“I especially enjoy having students from a range of majors because they bring multiple perspectives to the classroom. UMass is wonderful because the education is great, the price is low compared to other institutions, the students are curious intellectually and seem to have a lot of fun, and the location is beautiful!”

In addition to her courses, Kerrissey is collaborating with Labor Center students on research projects.  They include examining the changes in the public sector collective bargaining laws that have changed by state from 1950 to today; looking at the extent to which union members have different views on class, gender, and race than non union members, and how that has changed from 1948 and 2012; and examining how collective labor rights matter for worker safety in the Global South.

When she isn’t busy with her research and classes, Kerrissey takes advantage of Amherst’s great outdoors. “Since most of my work life is inside,” she says, “I try to spend as many of my non-work hours doing things outside. I like to garden, hike, rock climb…and just sitting in the sun while reading.” Even on busy days, she squeezes in some fresh air. “I like to start and end my work day with bike commuting. Who needs coffee when you get woken up by 25 degree weather on your way to work!”