A country-wide wave of labor-organizing coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic’s effects on how we conceptualize the workplace have created a watershed moment for labor rights and justice in America. Amidst this backdrop, three University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School students are spending their summers advocating for the rights of workers across a breadth of industries in Philadelphia and Chicago as Peggy Browning Fellows: Paul Sindberg, Julian Lutz, and Juan Pablo Madrigal.
Each year, the Peggy Browning Fund sponsors fellowships for law students who dedicate their summers to advancing workers’ rights in labor unions, workers’ rights organizations, and other nonprofit legal organizations doing similar work.
The Fund is named to honor Margaret “Peggy” Browning, who dedicated her career to the advancement of labor rights. After spending several years practicing labor law in Philadelphia, Browning was appointed to the National Labor Relations Board by President Bill Clinton in 1994, where she served until her death at the age of 46.
“The feeling of a contract win or of people winning their first union is electric—it’s so emotional being a part of people standing up and reclaiming power that is rightfully theirs,” says Sindberg. “The Peggy Browning Fund has trained generations of labor leaders, has created a great network, and is an awesome opportunity for folks who have an interest in labor law or labor organizing to get involved.”
Sindberg described labor organizing as “building a boat as you’re rowing it.” This summer, Sindberg is working at the Chicago News Guild, an organization of which Sindberg’s grandfather was a long-time member. In their capacity as a Peggy Browning Fellow, Sindberg has been compiling research to assist organizers in their decision-making, sitting next to organizers at contract negotiations for benefits for their members, and supporting the Guild in creating and unrolling new organizing campaigns.
Lutz, who is working with the Sheet Metal Workers Union Local 19 in South Philadelphia, had also been thinking about labor organization for years prior to attending law school. His grandfather was a steelworker and union member, and for a time, his mother was a union ice-cream truck driver; however, it was seeing the risks and harms his mother was exposed to in her non-union job in a lab that Lutz credits with energizing him and encouraging him to view situations through the lens of labor justice.
When Lutz himself first entered the workforce, he worked at a grocery store, where staff morale was low and team members felt isolated from one another. Lutz took note of this and questioned whether the messaging discouraging teamwork among employees was intentional. Later, as he began working for an affordable housing organization after college, the tenets of labor organization were still in his mind; to him, it seemed like movements around affordable housing and labor rights could benefit from intersecting.
Madrigal is spending his summer at Community Legal Services, where a large portion of his work involves assisting low-income Philadelphians pursue wage-theft claims.
For Madrigal, fighting for fair labor practices feels highly personal. After immigrating to America when he was eight, Madrigal recalled feeling like he couldn’t use his name on job applications in the mostly white community where he grew up. Then, after studying Human Development and Family Studies as an undergraduate, Madrigal worked at Goodwill Industries, running job readiness training programs for individuals with disabilities and/or who were impacted by the criminal justice system; both populations faced substantial barriers to entering the workforce. Recognizing the ways in which employers can—and sometimes do—covertly treat job applicants unfairly deeply bothered Madrigal, and he wanted to find a way to pursue justice.
Read more at Penn Law News.