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Representing Workers on the Front Lines


Libby Militello ’22 is a student writer for the Communications Office and was spending the spring semester on Hamilton’s Program in Washington, D.C. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, she, like the rest of Hamilton’s students, was forced to return home to continue the semester remotely. In the following, Militello describes her search for an internship and how she’s adapting to her new role.

My bags had been packed, my apartment had been swept one final time, and any hopes or plans I had for the upcoming summer had been suspended in an anxiety-inducing limbo as my off-campus study program in Washington, D.C. came to an abrupt end. I had already begun my internship search for the summer, but I couldn’t have possibly imagined the degree to which work itself would drastically change.

When I arrived home, I reconnected with an employer I worked with during a local campaign last year. She offered me a position at the Central New York Labor Council, an affiliate of the New York State AFL-CIO, which serves as a hub for resources, organization, and communication for 26 union locals and approximately 18,000 members in Oneida and Herkimer counties.

I was slated to start work in the summer, pitching in with long-term projects and recurring programs. However, as the COVID-19 crisis worsened and the lives of workers in all industries became more precarious, the work of the Labor Council proved far more urgent than I had initially expected. With the uncertainty of the moment, I immediately began working for the council, alongside two other Hamilton students, Eric Kopp ’22 and Mckela Kanu ’22.

Thrust somewhat suddenly into our new roles, Mckela, Eric, and I have been quickly catching up on the concerns of workers in the local community by talking with teachers, auto workers, manufacturing workers, and, of course, healthcare staff about the challenges they are facing during the pandemic. Frontline workers need all the help they can get. Hospital staff are forced to reuse personal protective equipment (PPE), grocery store workers put their lives at risk to help others, and laborers in nonessential businesses fear layoffs and the often daunting process of filing for unemployment benefits.

In response, the Labor Council staff helps to promote community resources such as food giveaways and volunteer opportunities, provide digestible summaries of state and federal legislation, and connect workers with government representatives, including a Zoom call where members were able to communicate directly with our congressman, Anthony Brindisi. As news cycles continue to be flooded with constantly updated information, opinions, and statistics, we distill it all for workers who don’t have time to sift through executive orders, press conferences, and stimulus bills that can span over 200 pages.

I was fortunate to land in a position that has already taught me much about my local area and the struggles of workers across the nation. However, the biggest lesson I’ve learned thus far is that the work I do at the Labor Council is not about me and what I may gain, but rather assisting those who tirelessly, and often thanklessly, provide so much for our communities.

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