Providing Worker Education and Building the Labor Movement: The Joseph S. Murphy Institute of City University of New York

Article excerpt

To provide equitable access to formal, nonformal and workplace learning, experts urge community, business, education and government partnerships (Ginsberg & Wlodkowski, 2010). Description of existing partnerships' techniques, such as prior learning assessment, articulation agreements, creative scheduling, and retention strategies can assist program planners who believe that equitable participation in adult education leads to a more just society. Maslow's (1998) studies of workplaces led to his assertion that all workers want to learn and self-actualize; however, almost everywhere the lowest-paid and least-educated workers are confronted by more barriers to beginning and persisting (Ginsberg & Wlodkowski, 2010), not the least of which is management's tendency to invest primarily in those who have already received credentials. While membership in unions continues to decline and "opportunities for entry-level workers to become skilled workers is lessening" (Ginsberg & Wlodkowski, 2010, p. 29), the partnership described here shows that it is possible to increase access for transit workers, health care workers, construction workers, paraprofessionals, and others to career-enhancing growth through labor-management and university collaboration.

This paper describes an Institute within the City University of New York (CUNY), dedicated to education for union members, the growth and development of organized labor, and the struggle for social justice. The Joseph S. Murphy Institute is named after a former CUNY Chancellor who was a lifelong champion of worker education and workers' rights. The Worker Education Center of the Institute works with labor-management joint funds to meet the workforce development needs of local industries and their workers by fostering partnerships between these Funds and CUNY academic departments that have the requisite expertise. The Institute's Center for Labor, Community and Policy Studies works with unions and their allies to convene forums and conferences that debate issues key to the labor movement, conduct labor-focused research, and produce a critically acclaimed journal--New Labor Forum. This paper will look at recent research on adult degree completion, and examine what is working with labor management funds--in the context of a labor-focused Institute at a major public, urban University--which adds to strategies for supporting success in college for adult workers. (Information about the Institute and both Centers can be found at www.workered.org.)

Background

The Joseph S. Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies provides access for working adults and union members to the City University of New York (CUNY). CUNY is the largest university in the United States and part of the largest state system in the country, serving nearly 500,000 students at 23 colleges. The Institute provides postsecondary student support and program development services for unions and their members, and also serves as an academic resource for the labor movement in New York City. As such, it works with collectively bargained labor-management education funds to develop and offer education for union members, as well as with unions to build and strengthen the labor movement. It provides access to the University for individual workers seeking education and advancement, and also brings together labor-management funds and academic departments with appropriate industry- related expertise to create programs that serve cohorts of union members. The educational philosophy that guides our work is summed up in the following statement from our program brochure: "The work of the Institute is driven by the belief that an educated workforce and a strong labor movement are vital to a humane and democratic society (Murphy Institute Viewbook, p. 2)."

Although the Institute is not itself a school or a college, it has provided access to education for adult workers at CUNY colleges for nearly three decades. …