Labor Summer interns reflect on their experience

UC Berkeley Labor Center

Every summer, we connect students with the labor movement in California for a unique educational experience. Through Labor Summer, students get the opportunity to learn from and work with labor and community organizations throughout the state. They get the chance to apply their skills in real-world settings on issues affecting working people. Below, some of our Labor Summer alumni reflect on their experiences and how the internship has shaped their perspectives and professional growth.

Applications for this year’s Labor Summer internship are due January 30! Learn more about the internship and apply here.

“I was a Labor Summer intern in 2018, placed at the California Labor Federation as a research intern. The best part of the summer was getting to staff the California Labor Federation’s 2018 Bi-Annual Convention. Delegates met to decide candidate endorsements as 2018 was an election year. I met representatives from labor unions and industries across the state, got to see and talk to everyone from the nurses to the building trades, and even got to meet Dolores Huerta!

My coworkers at the California Labor Federation were wonderful mentors. They had been Labor Summer interns and knew how formative an internship could be. They checked in on me, gave me rides home, and gave me job advice. The California Labor Federation recently hosted another intern after I graduated, and they organized a mini Labor Summer reunion of multiple generations of Labor Summer interns who worked at the California Labor Federation. I felt the love of Labor Summer!

My first job after Labor Summer was with the Economic Justice Program at Chinese for Affirmative Action, where I ran a job center and hospitality vocational training program. Several of our program’s students were hired at newly opened hotels and often had questions about processes like card check agreements. Unite Here Local 2 organized the workers and would work with our students at their workplaces. Labor Sumer helped me understand the landscape of labor and the decision-making processes of unions, which was a useful foundation as I worked to get people hired into union jobs.”

Sally Chen, 2018 intern

“Before coming to Labor Summer, I knew that I had ideals for the betterment of the working class. I wanted to be a politician for the people. I had been working at these working class jobs, but I didn’t know about unions. During Labor Summer’s orientation week, I realized what I wanted to do was organize workers, but hadn’t been able to formulate it in my mind.

I participated as a Labor Summer intern in 2020, where I was placed at SEIU-United Service Workers West as an organizing intern. I spoke to workers like security guards, airport workers, and factory workers. The most memorable conversation I had was with a woman who had just gotten into a car crash. I was able to listen to her as she talked about her pain from the crash, and how she felt compromised by still needing to work in-person despite COVID. The woman asked “Can I get in touch with my union?” and I was able to connect her to support. Now I am an organizer with SEIU 2015, where I organize In-Home Support Service providers and nursing home caregivers. I use the “Organizing Conversations Workshop” from Labor Summer to this day.

You should apply for Labor Summer if you want to learn more about the Labor struggle and how it intersects with racial and economic injustice. If you understand that poverty is a systemic failure, rather than an individual fault, and understand that Workers can build power through collective organizing, Labor Summer is the perfect program to grow and build on that knowledge. Ultimately, it is crucial to understand that unions seek to democratize the workplace and create a voice for workers who face exploitation on a daily basis. Apply for Labor Summer and join the forefront in the fight against systemic injustice!”

Sammy Flores, 2020 intern

“This past summer I was placed at North Bay Jobs with Justice in Santa Rosa where I was immediately immersed in a campaign for safety and respect for farmworkers in Sonoma County. One particular experience from this summer that was really impactful was attending a farmworker consejo meeting, held by my host site, which was essentially a place where farm workers come together to share their experiences. It was amazing to see how our farmworker leaders and other community members took the lead over this meeting. They created a really good energy for other workers who were coming to meetings for the first time and were a bit hesitant to open up at first. I can easily say that one of the most important lessons I’ve learned [through Labor Summer] is that our stories are extremely powerful and listening to workers share their stories is one of the most important ways we can be there for them, in order to make their voices heard, establish connections, and build collective power.

Thanks to my host site and their network, I was able to get a job as a tenant organizer in Sonoma County shortly after my internship. I use the skills that I learned through Labor Summer everyday as I connect with members of the community to organize around issues that impact them directly. I highly recommend Labor Summer to folks who are interested in learning organizing skills, building people power, and establishing connections with other youth fighting for socio economic justice.”

Elizabeth Avila, 2021 intern

“Last summer, I was placed with Teamsters Local 2010 to work on strategic research projects and bargaining efforts for clerical and skilled trade workers in California higher education. From both the Labor Summer orientation and my host site, I learned about the bargaining process, strategic research strategies, and how we gain power through rank-and-file organizing. This fall, I started a master’s program in Media and Strategic Communication and regularly use what I learned about unions and research in my courses and projects!

My favorite part of the Labor Summer program was having the opportunity to shadow my host site supervisor and really understand what it means to be a union researcher. My experiences with the Labor Summer program and Teamsters Local 2010 have totally informed my decision to continue working with and studying labor unions. If you’re interested in gaining real-world organizing or research experience, being in community with workers and organizer, and learning more about the labor movement, apply to Labor Summer 2022!”

Patricia Haney, 2021 intern