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MA in Labor Studies
Class of 2014
A Conversation with Pam Galpern of CWA Local 1101
“The Value of Study in Moving the Labor Movement Forward”
Under the current Trump administration, U.S. working men and women are increasingly concerned about an imbalanced economy. This has led to a renewed interest and vigilance about preserving opportunity, employment, and financial parity for laborers through union membership and mobilization.
But how do unions thrive?
We talked to Pam Galpern, a Verizon employee and member of CWA Local 1101, about how she both enhanced her career and abilities as a contributor to the labor movement by earning a Master’s Degree in Labor Studies.
She told us about the Joseph S. Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies, a part of the CUNY School of Professional Studies, located conveniently in midtown Manhattan. The Murphy Institute prepares adults in fields represented by unions (healthcare, education, telecommunications, transit, construction, etc.) to advance in their professions as well as the labor movement by working toward Urban and/or Labor Studies certificates, undergraduate, or graduate degree programs.
First, we asked Pam to tell us about herself.
While in college, I was active in Latin American solidarity and this led to a lifelong interest in the labor movement. After graduation, I worked at Mujer Obrera, advocating for garment factory workers and then worked for the Lower East Side Worker Center, further solidifying my interest in unions and labor issues.
Where are you currently employed?
I work as a field technician for Verizon. I’ve been with the company for 17 years; it is a great place to work.
How did you find out about the Murphy Institute?
I took undergrad classes at Cornell University, hearing then about the Murphy Institute and its Labor Studies program. It seemed a great opportunity to surround myself with a diverse group of active union members involved in strengthening bargaining skills and learning how to become better stewards. And the Murphy Institute offers college-level courses in a stimulating, learning environment.
How have you applied your learning?
I benefited from the interactive classes at the Murphy Institute and developed my skills in research and information gathering. My capstone project served as a significant and memorable experience. I wrote about the changes in the telecommunication industry and the impact on bargaining power. The structure of the course allowed me to see the bigger issues things were being put down on paper, and presenting to a class made issues clearer and more distinct. Because of the Murphy Institute, I was even able to create training materials for my job.
Any thoughts about the Verizon strike in 2016?
Interestingly, union members who took classes at Murphy Institute were active in the strike – mobilizing and taking on leadership roles. The classes stimulated and informed our actions.
What would you say to leaders and other locals about the Murphy Institute?
The Murphy Institute is a valuable resource for local unions and members. There are great professors and staff; everyone encourages the sharing of knowledge and engagement with one another as activists. It is a place to gain confidence, to further your education, and assume a more informed and active role in the future of the labor movement.
How have your studies at Murphy Institute improved your capabilities as a leader?
The Murphy Institute helped me to develop and broaden my understanding of the labor movement through historical context and a more global perspective. By learning about what’s happening in other places, I can better understand what’s happening here. It’s tough for labor activists today. But I do see a new generation of interest since the election. And if these younger workers take the time to learn from the past and engage with present day activists, we can build a stronger labor movement for the future.
What would you say to members to encourage them to enroll in a Labor Studies program?
The Murphy Institute’s Labor Studies program provided me a great opportunity to consider the nuts and bolts of the labor movement while developing relevant skills as a researcher, writer, and thinker. And they allow full-time workers to obtain an education at their own pace. I took one class at a time, one night per week. It took me five years to obtain my Master’s Degree in Labor Studies, but it was well worth it. It was a big undertaking; I have a husband, two kids, a full-time job, and union duties. My most impactful moment was on graduation day. My children attended, and I was able to show them that this is what I’d been working toward. They had seen me doing homework at night and on Saturdays. I had demonstrated that it’s important to finish what you start and to push through no matter how insurmountable an undertaking may seem.