By GREGORY N. HEIRES
Where else but in New York City could you expect a college graduation ceremony to open with the singing of the historic labor song “Solidarity Forever,” along with the country’s national anthem?
That occurred at the CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies, which recently celebrated the graduation of the new public university’s first graduating class. Nearly 30 DC 37 members were among the proud graduates.
“Our mission is directed toward the public good and social justice,” Gregory Mantsios, the founding dean, said at the opening of the ceremony. The university aims to serve as an incubator of labor ideals, a vehicle for career advancement and advocate for the labor movement and greater community.”
Nicholas Pineda, a Data Processing Employees Local 2627 member, was the undergraduate student speaker at the June 14 ceremony.
“Fellow graduates, we are ambassadors for change in our communities,” said Pineda, who earned a bachelor’s degree in urban and community studies and plans to pursue his master’s in labor studies.
After working six years in the safety education and outreach program at the Dept. of Transportation, Pineda is taking on a new position in an information technology unit at the Dept. of Environmental Protection.
The School of Labor and Urban Studies was established last year as part of the City University of New York, the largest public university system in the country, where about 10,000 DC 37 members work.
“Don’t just be the first (to graduate),” said Social Service Employees SSEU Local 371 President Anthony Wells. “Be the first to make a difference coming out of this school.”
Deputy Mayor J. Phillip Thompson, the keynote speaker and a former SSEU Local 371 member, called upon the graduates to help the movement fight rising inequality in the United States.
Thompson proposed the following agenda for the New York labor movement:
- be at the forefront of turning the Green New Deal into a people’s movement;
- address the challenges of the city’s aging population;
- make advanced manufacturing and robotics worker-owned;
- bargain with employers over the use of consumer data, and
- confront the affordable housing crisis
Roberta Reardon, New York’s labor commissioner, offered graduates inspiring words.
“You never succeed by yourself; that is the beauty of the labor movement,” said Reardon, who is the former president of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. “You are true change makers, and I cannot wait to see what you accomplish.”
DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido attended the ceremony. “As a union, we have had a long-standing relation with CUNY and we have supported worker education for decades,” noted Garrido, who sits on the CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies’ advisory board.
Garrido noted that worker education was one of the priorities of the union’s 2017-21 economic agreement, which won members a 7.42 percent pay increase over the 44-month duration of the contract.
The contract adds $20 million for union’s education programs.
Diallo Shabazz, administrator of the DC 237 Education Fund, said the funding boost has helped give more members access to CUNY. Over the years, thousands of members have earned college credits through the support of the union’s tuition reimbursement benefit.
Today, more than 1,200 students are enrolled in SLU’s degree and certificate programs. The school is an outgrowth of the Joseph S. Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies, which was founded in 1984, with 54 students.