Each year the Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies holds its annual awards banquet to celebrate the contributions of students, faculty, and working people to labor research and advocacy. The banquet also honors the recipients of the Bridge Center’s many scholarships and fellowships, which are designed to support students engaged in the study of labor and passionate about social justice.
This year’s banquet, held on Sunday November 10th, was a time of celebration and the culmination of an exciting year of growth for the center which significantly expanded its scope and operations in 2019, in part with the help of funding from the Washington State Legislature.
The event was the largest to date with more than twenty students recognized and awarded prizes in front of a packed room of over 350 members and supporters from the labor community in Washington State. A new addition this year were a serious of videos, produced by the center’s Communications Assistant, Emma Hinchliffe. These short films highlighted fellowships and activities at the center and were punctuated throughout the banquet program.
The evening began with a video introducing the Bridges Center and its operations. The video featured Bridges Center staff, current Harry Bridges Endowed Chair in Labor Studies, Kim England, community partners and students. It recalled the creation of the center, its growth, activities, the work it does supporting students on campus and hopes for the future. Assistant Director of Student and Community Engagement, Yasmin Ahmed, closed the video on a reflective note recalling how, “The center is in a really prime position to help students engage with the labor movement in all of the ways that they want, whether it’s projects or whether it’s through coursework, or through research that they’re interested in conducting, or the activism that they’re trying to do.”
After the video, Andrew Hedden, Associate Director of the Bridge’s Center, spoke more on the centers growth and the impact this has had noting how there was a record number of student applications to the center’s fellowships and the highest ever number of enrollments in the Center’s Labor Studies Minor program in 2018. Increased funding has also enabled a sizable increase in staff capacity and more resources for students and faculty. This includes new classes on labor topics and the initial stages of development for an internship program for UW students looking to get experience in the labor movement
As well as a time to celebrate the banquet was also an opportunity for reflection. Former Bridges Chair Jim Gregory led the room in a moment of silence to honor two community members who passed in 2018, Ron Magden and Steve Marquadt.
A large part of the Bridges Center’s recent growth has been due to generous contributions from ILWU local members and pensioners whose efforts resulted in the establishment of two new fellowships awarded for the first time this year: the Frank Jenkins Jr. Fellowship in Labor Studies and the Michele Drayton and Ian Kennedy Scholarship in Labor Studies.
Honoring a Great Leader: The Frank Jenkins Jr. Fellowship in Labor Studies
This two-year fellowship, which provides students with $6,000 in funding for their education, is named for Seattle civil rights activist and labor leader, Frank Jenkins Jr. It was created in 2018 to support students who show a commitment to the causes of social and economic justice, equality, and diversity in their education.
The son of an African American father and a Fillipino mother, Jenkins was a longshoreman and founding member of ILWU Local 19. He worked on the waterfront in Seattle for over forty years. Despite being largely unsung as a public figure, he was a devoted labor activist and lifelong union member whose decades-long commitment to the ILWU enabled more equitable policies on the waterfront, ensuing that minorities had the same opportunities as everyone else.
At the banquet the award was introduced by a short film which discussed Jenkins, his legacy, and how his impact is still felt at the ILWU – especially in terms of the progressive values and diversity that the union prides itself on. The video featured ILWU Local 19 pensioner James Barnett, former Local 19 president and current member Herald Ugles, and current night shift dispatch manager Jerome Johnson. Barnett was instrumental in the creation of the fellowship and worked closely with the Jenkins family to get their permission to establish it. Although he had not met Frank, in the film, he talked about the impact Jenkins had on him as a fellow African American. “Frank was almost a legend [on the waterfront],” Barnett explained. “I heard a lot about Frank. He was a part of a group of great leaders for the union.” This impact was echoed by Ugles, who spoke of the importance of having Frank as a leader because, he said, it showed that “the ILWU was diverse not just in words but by action.” Johnson concluded the film discussing the importance of recognizing the contributions of African Americans like Jenkins in US history and the surprise he felt upon learning more about Jenkins’ impact in a predominantly and historically white city like Seattle. Johnson explained that whilst the recognition of Jenkins was overdue, he was pleased to see the Fellowship established and hopeful that minority students will benefit from it in the future.
After the film Ugles, who was a part of the Fellowship selection committee, presented the award to this year’s winners - Alika Bourgette and Paulette Thompson - who he noted stood out amongst an impressive group of over 50 applicants.
Bourgette is a graduate student in the Department of History at the University of Washington. His research focuses on the experiences of Hawaiian youths in nineteenth century Honolulu, specifically how they circumvented and transgressed against colonial institutions in the area. During the first year of the fellowship he will use the funds to buy books in preparation for his PhD comprehensive exams, which he will take in 2020, and to fund travel to conferences where he can share his work with other scholars. In the second year the fellowship will help support dissertation research. “In my dissertation I hope I can engage the ILWU and Frank Jenkin’s legacy directly because part of my project will be focused on longshore workers in Honolulu around the time when the ILWU was founded there, during the strike of 1934,” Bourgette explained.
Speaking about the banquet Bourgette reflected, “It was so heartwarming to see the video about Frank Jenkins before I received my award and to hear the impact he had. I think it is a testament to the man to hear members of the ILWU talk about him so fondly and to learn about how quickly the money was raised to establish the fund.” He continued, “It was also great to meet several ILWU pensioners and members and to actually see the people who are supporting me and the people I hope to honor with my work. This is what Labor Studies should be about, building community relationships.”
Thompson, pursuing a PhD in Education at the University of Washington, is the granddaughter of a longshore worker from the gulf coast and has been an anti-racist social justice educator in Seattle public schools for over thirty years. She was “honored to be an inaugural recipient of an award named after such a great man in history.” Thompson plans to meet with more ILWU pensioners in the future and to learn more about the history she hopes to build on with her work and activism. “Seeing multiple generations of the labor movement at the banquet was something that really stuck out to me,” she reflected. “It made me realize how far we’ve come, what it’s taken for us to get here, and how important history is to knowing where we can, and should go, in the future.”
Supporting Working-Class Students: The Kennedy Drayton Scholarship in Labor Studies
The second new award of the night was the Kennedy Drayton Scholarship in Labor Studies. This award was created by, and named for, Ian Kennedy and Michele Drayton, former members of ILWU Local 52 and current officers of the Seattle ILWU Pensioners Club. This award provides $5,000 in financial support to working-class freshmen pursuing Labor Studies at the University of Washington, removing the financial burden that often comes with entering college.
Kennedy and Drayton established this award to advance their deeply held commitment to education and organized labor and they hope it will be a much-needed source of support for students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.
Michele Drayton presented the award on the night to two deserving and inspiring young women who, despite recently graduating high school, have already proven themselves committed activists and change makers pushing for social justice and workers’ rights: Dianna Laguan and Lilya Garzon-Boyd. Dianna is the first member of her family to attend college and is committed to pushing for immigration reform and the rights of undocumented workers. This is a passion shared by Garzon-Boyd who has already been to Olympia to petition state legislators and is pushing to get the Keep Washington Working bill passed. This bill would help undocumented immigrants get jobs without putting themselves and their families at risk of deportation.
Investing in the Future of Labor Studies
In total seven student awards were given on the night. Taken together they provide over $100,000 in labor scholarships and research funding.
Gray Taylor and Tania Santiago were this year’s recipients of the Domingo Viernes Scholarship. This award honors Silme Domingo and Gene Viernes, two critical and inspiring ILWU labor leaders. They were elected to ILWU Local 37 (now IBU Region 37) leadership in 1980 and worked to build solidarity with workers in the Philippines. Both were tragically murdered in 1981 at the order of Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Ligaya Domingo, Silme’s daughter, presented Gray with her award on the night along with a copy of the book Remembering Silme Domingo and Gene Viernes: The Legacy of Filipino American Labor Activism (University of Washington Press, 2012).
“I’d read a lot about and had been inspired by Domingo and Viernes when I was applying for this scholarship,” Taylor reflected, “So it was really something to meet members of the Domingo family at the banquet. I was humbled to receive this award.” Gray, who is currently pursuing a master’s in public health with the aspiration of expanding access to mental and physical health resources for working women in unsafe labor environments, added, “Another great thing about the banquet was that I got to learn more about the labor community in Washington…..coming from North Carolina, a state where labor and union are almost dirty words, it was heartening to see how strong and supportive the labor community in Washington is, and a pleasant surprise to see so many people from diverse academic disciplines engaged in the study of labor.”
The Jugum Scholarship is named for Martin “Jug” Jugum, a leader of ILWU Local 19 for over fifty years. Jugum was essential in creating the Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies. Receiving the award this year were student activists Jasmine Fernandez, Oloth Insyxiengmay, Clara Rafferty and Rhiannon Rasaretnam.
Rafferty, a leader of United Students Against Sweatshops – an on-campus group that organizes for student and worker power at the University of Washington – was thankful for the recognition. “The Bridges Center has been a really important place of support and community for me during my time at the UW, so it feels fitting to receive an award named for Jugum. It was nice to be recognized at the banquet for my work and service and it was a reminder to take my labor seriously. I also know that there are many workers and activists in less privileged positions than myself so I plan to use this fellowship and my platform to continue advocating for those people,” Rafferty stated.
Fernandez, who joined the UW this fall first became invested in the labor movement this summer. Jasmine is a prolific activist for the cause of democracy in the Philippines and has been involved in several initiatives aimed at supporting Filipino workers. Since coming to the UW she has engaged with many events at the center and has been inspired to pursue a career in labor law. “I want to be an advocate for workers and their rights,” she explained “and this fellowship is a step towards achieving that goal.” This was Fernandez's first time attending the Annual Awards Banquet. “One of my favorite things about the evening was getting to see and learn more about the work of others, this helped me realize that I am not alone in this path and also continued to expand my understanding of what labor means,” she reflected. “I used to see labor as manual or physical work but now I know it is so much more – labor can be emotional as much as physical and is feminine as much as masculine. It was great to see such a diverse group of students recognized for their commitment to labor in all its many facets.”
Rhiannon Rasaretnam was another recipient of the Jugum fellowship inspired by receiving this award. “Getting this recognition was a validation for my involvement in the labor movement and a motivation to continue this work,” she recalled. Rhiannon is a sophomore. She is currently working to challenge the University of Washington’s investment in prisons through their contracts with correctional industries. Her favorite part of the banquet was getting to invite her family and a high school teacher who have been big influences on her work in labor and her social justice activism. “One thing that’s clear at the banquet is the role support and mentorship plays in leading the next generation of labor activists and scholars, so it was really great to have them there and let them know that they are a big part of me getting this award.”
Other student awards presented on the evening were:
The Lera and Samuel B. Bassett Scholarship in Labor Relations: Winner, Erica Chavez Santos
Martha H. Duggan Fellowship in Caring Labor: Winner, Caitlin Alcorn
Gundlach Scholarship in Labor Studies: Winner, Perla Bravo
More information about the year-round activities of the Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies can be found by visiting the Bridges Center’s website at labor.uw.edu. All of the videos screened at the banquet can be viewed at the Harry Bridges Center’s YouTube Channel at tinyurl.com/bridges-videos