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From Union Scholar to AFSCME staff: My journey in the labor movement

The author (front row, center) along with others in her Union Scholars cohort.
From Union Scholar to AFSCME staff: My journey in the labor movement
By Kathleen Cancio ·
From Union Scholar to AFSCME staff: My journey in the labor movement
The author (left) with AFSCME staff while working in Ohio during her Union Scholars internship.

As a sophomore at Northeastern University in Boston, I knew little about the labor movement. However, I was passionate about social justice and knew that we could make our world a better place by simply believing we could and doing the work to organize our communities.

It wasn’t until I participated in AFSCME’s Union Scholars Program that I developed a fundamental love for and dedication to uplifting workers' rights. The Union Scholars program is an immersive, paid internship for students of color who want to learn about union organizing and become part of the labor movement.

In 2011, during my first year as a Union Scholar, I spent the summer with the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association (OCSEA) in Columbus. There, as part of a coalition titled “We Are Ohio,” I became entrenched in the efforts to repeal Senate Bill 5, legislation championed by then-Gov. John Kasich that would have severely limited collective bargaining rights for Ohio’s more than 400,000 public employees.

As an intern, I learned the power of mobilizing mass support through phone banks, petitions and rallies. I was even given the opportunity to organize my own canvassing team with a group of retirees. The campaign to repeal SB5 was a huge success, and being part of such a historic victory for workers only fueled my desire to continue moving forward in the labor movement.

After being invited back to the Union Scholars Program in 2012, I landed in the Research and Collective Bargaining Services Department at AFSCME’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. That summer, I gained a greater understanding of how the work of our international union helped drive and support local fights like the campaign to repeal SB5 in Ohio. I was also blessed to meet and connect with the hardworking staff who worked tirelessly to support the critically important work of our union.

Years later, I am thankful that these meaningful experiences as a Union Scholar stayed with me and paved the way for me to continue in the labor movement – and return to AFSCME as a strategic communications specialist. Today, I am proud to be leading the communications efforts behind one of AFSCME’s most successful national campaigns, Cultural Workers United, and I owe this entire journey to the Union Scholars program.

Apply now. Don’t delay.

If you’re a college student interested in social justice and workers’ rights, please consider applying for AFSCME’s Union Scholars program by March 22, 2023.

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