Downing and her students were attending the third annual Future in Focus career fair — sponsored by the UFT’s High Schools Division and the AFL-CIO New York City Central Labor Council — where more than 200 public high school students learned about the benefits of unionized careers at UFT headquarters on March 15.
UFT Vice President for Academic High Schools Janella Hinds, who is also secretary-treasurer of the Central Labor Council, said the fair introduces students to unionized careers that offer them “the opportunity to participate in something bigger than yourself, to help your colleagues and to have a voice in your work.”
The students explored industry-themed rooms — trades; entertainment, arts and tourism; education; and public service — and met with representatives from 31 unions, including a number of UFT divisions.
UFT President Michael Mulgrew encouraged the students to use the union and the fair as resources to collect as much information as possible. “What you want to do in life is keep your options open,” he said. “When you have options, you have control.”
Brooklyn HS of the Arts Chapter Leader Tim Evans said students may see college as the only pathway. “But there are many pathways to succeed,” he said.
Students also learned about the power of union solidarity and collective bargaining from a panel of young unionized workers, including two graduate students who helped organize a union for student employees at the New School; a stage manager and member of the Actors’ Equity Association; and an organizer in a building trades union.
A play by the Working Theater Group underscored the historical significance of unions and their hard-earned benefits, such as the eight-hour work day. The play, “A Labor Story,” showed a high school student wary of paying union dues the security and support she would get in return in the unionized job she’s offered.
Christina Illas, a senior at Gramercy Arts HS in Manhattan who is interested in theater and writing, said she learned a lot from her experience at the fair. “Labor unions are vital,” she said, and young people need more knowledge about them.