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The past and present struggle for workers' rights

Carpenters march in the Baltimore Labor Day parade in 1975.
Courtesy University of Maryland University Libraries.
Carpenters march in the Baltimore Labor Day parade in 1975.

As summer draws to an end, Labor Day is more than an opportunity for one last weekend at the beach. The federal holiday commemorates the American labor movement, and the centuries-old struggle for workers’ rights.

And Maryland is home to the second-largest archive of labor history in the United States, located in the University Libraries at University of Maryland, College Park.

Benjamin Blake, Social Justice and Labor Archivist in the University Libraries, joins us to discuss labor history, and connecting his work in the archives to today's social movement driving for change. He helped create the For Liberty, Justice, and Equality: Unions Making History in America online exhibit of archival materials. Blake is also one of the faculty members supporting unionization of their own workplace.

The push for union representation continues in a range of professions and industries, from carmakers to Starbucks baristas to healthcare workers. Efforts to unionize also persist in the ivory towers of U.S. universities and colleges.

While faculty in the University System of Maryland, Morgan State and St. Mary’s College do not have the right to collective bargaining, faculty and graduate assistants across the state have been organizing to exert more say in their working conditions.

Two academic workers involved in organizing efforts on campuses in Maryland join us. Jared Ball is a professor of Communication and Africana Studies at Morgan State University. He also founded Black Power Media and hosts the podcast ‘iMIXWHATiLIKE!’ We are also joined by Andrew Eneim, a Ph.d candidate in biophysics and physical chemistry at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. There, he helped organize the ‘Teachers and Researchers United’ union.

A spokesperson for Johns Hopkins University said the administration is working to “amicably and constructively” with the academic workers union to negotiate an agreement. Over more than a dozen sessions, the university said, the bargaining teams have covered an array of issues and reached tentative agreements on nine articles, including a grievance and arbitration procedure.

We asked Morgan State University for a comment on faculty organizing efforts, but did not get a reply.

Sheilah Kast is the host of On The Record, Monday-Friday, 9:30-10:00 am.
Sam Bermas-Dawes is a producer for Midday.