“Dynamic and awe inspiring”
Kristi Baker from Alaska, and Californians Jess Lima and Mark DeWeerdt are the latest Harvard Trade Union Program (HTUP) graduates and recipients of NSO scholarships. HTUP, which ran from Jan. 9 to Feb. 19, 2017, prepares union activists to meet the challenges of leadership within their unions and society. This was the 106th session of the program which is held on the campus of Harvard University in conjunction with Harvard Law School.
Kristi has been an associate staff member for nine years, working in the Fairbanks office. She’s also a member of her staff union’s executive board and Reconciliation Committee. Since 2010 when she first heard about HTUP, she hoped to one day “embrace the whole experience.”
The HTUP “experience” is an intensive six-week program which is part of Harvard’s Labor and Worklife Program. It brings together a diverse group of students from across the country and the world who have been chosen for their ability and potential for future leadership in the labor movement. Program applicants should have experience as officers or staff members of a local, regional or national union.
Jess is a union rep for the California Associate Staff (CAS), working in Legislative Relations. He also serves as an alternate trustee on the CAS/CSO Health and Welfare Trust.
For the past three years, Mark has been the Organizing Chair for the California Staff Association (CSO). He brings to his job and the union an extensive background in organizing and as a community activist and labor leader. Currently, he is the chair of the Asian/Pacific Islander/Native American Staff Caucus and a labor representative for the Solano County Workforce Development Board.
Kristi, Jess and Mark attended sessions led by the HTUP faculty who are internationally recognized for their expertise in labor issues. Sessions explore key issues in the labor movement, such as current labor law, union organizing and the public image of unions. The HTUP curriculum is structured to help students develop analytical and managerial problem-solving skills; to deepen their understanding of the value and importance of labor unions; and to give them an opportunity to interact with other future leaders in corporate and public sectors around the world.
“The courses made the reality of our times as union members more poignant. The session on labor law showed us that unions go beyond the individual and are a part of the greater good. Unions solidify labor’s role in society and have a global impact,” Jess said.
Seminars, individual presentations, in-depth discussions, and extensive readings are also part of the curriculum. Kristi said, “Each topic led to the next issue. It was like a carpet intricately woven with knowledge.”
Both Kristi and Jess had their favorite sessions. Because of his interests and the work he does, Jess got a lot out of the courses on the history of unions, union organizing and bargaining. Kristi made the connection to her own union in “Forming the Public Narrative.”
She said, “In that session, we learned the importance of deciding on a message that tells the story of self, us, and now. From there we can engage our members—especially new ones—in one-on-one conversations and show them how they can have a place in the union. I think this session really spoke to what my union—or any union—needs.”
Jess sees the role of a leader as one who sets an example for others. “A leader does it and says it and lives it. A leader is an agent of positive change. A leader is one who can see the big picture and serves as an advocate for members,” he said.
Kristi has a similar definition. She said, “Leaders lift up others and show them the way to succeed. They accept the responsibility for the success of others. I found this quote in our HTUP readings which I think sums it up— ‘A leader accepts the responsibility for enabling others to achieve a shared purpose in the face of uncertainty.’”
After being away from their families, jobs and affiliate, Kristi, Jess and Mark are now back home. So what’s next?
Jess is determined to use what he learned and experienced in his role as a CTA employee; as a union representative; and as a leader. “A labor union’s role is to give working people a unified voice. They are the mechanism that makes society work. I want to be a part of that,” he said.
Kristi echoed Jess’ sentiments. She wants to set up a library of resources for her members so they can have the same access to the them as she did. Kristi also wants to be the liaison for her members to the instructors and authors she met during her HTUP experience.