Clara Raftery


“I believe that if the rights of workers at the University of Washington are uplifted, the entire campus community will be a more equitable, just, and inclusive place.”

- Clara Raftery.

The Bridges Center was delighted to learn that Clara Raftery, the 2019-20 recipient of the Martin and Anne Jugum Scholarship in Labor Studies, has been awarded a Mary Gates Research Scholarship for her project on campus workers and labor activism.

Mary Gates Research Scholarships are “competitive scholarships intended to enhance the educational experiences of undergraduate students at the University of Washington.”

Clara’s research project, “Labor, Activism, and Justice: A Study of Campus Workers at the University of Washington,” uses academia as a form of activism to highlight the experiences and voices of cleaning and maintenance workers at the UW and how their realities connect to labor rights movements.

Through qualitative interviews with UW community members the project hopes to answer the question: How can we understand worker experiences through the lens of labor activism?

Clara has long been involved with the labor rights movement both as a researcher and activist. 

She completed a project through the Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies, in Quito Ecuador, on the experiences and situations, in relation to labor rights, of Venezuelan immigrants living in Quito. In addition to the campus workers project, she also plans to do more research on the labor rights of domestic workers in Seattle and on the experiences of immigrants in the US as they relate to issues of labor.

As an activist, Clara is a long-time member of United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), an international student organization that fights for intersectional labor justice. It was during a USAS sponsored event at the UW – Workers Speak Out – that the idea for this project was born.

Through her work with USAS Clara has learned about workers experiences and activism and has collaborated with them in different actions. Her goals with this project are two-fold: to learn more about workers' experiences and to highlight and promote their engagement with the labor movement.

The outcome will be an easily accessible platform where workers' voices can be heard, and their experiences and needs expressed, that also showcases the work and organizing they have been doing for labor justice. Foregrounding workers as activists is something that Clara feels is especially important in order to show how workers, unions, and students, can, and have, worked together in the past to improve conditions on campus and to determine what might make future campaigns effective.

“The specific focus on the UW community in this project is important, because there is a history of campus worker activism at the UW, but there is a large gap in public knowledge of campus workers experiences and labor justice campaigns. This research aims to address this gap in a way that centers workers' voices.” Clara explained

These voices are especially important to highlight as manual work of the kind that maintenance professionals and custodians engage in is often labeled unskilled and insignificant, and their crucial contributions to the campus community unacknowledged and under compensated. The falsity of the image of the 'unskilled' worker has never been more clear in light of the Covid-19 pandemic where these frontline workers have been essential to keeping the UW community operational and safe for others – risking their own health in the process.

With the support of the Mary Gates Research Scholarship Clara will be able to compensate workers for their time and fairly acknowledge the energy given to participate in the study.

We look forward to seeing this important and timely project come together.

Congratulations Clara!