Like the man in whose honor the Michael Weiner Scholarship for Labor Studies was founded, Akasha Perez has a burning passion to support people who join together to represent themselves in the workplace.
“There is an African Proverb that says: ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together,’” Perez said recently. “This quote puts into words a principle that Michael Weiner embodied throughout his career: the power of collective action. I too believe that the best way to create change is through the empowerment of others.”
Perez, a San Jose, Calif., native who is pursuing a degree from the Howard University School of Law, is one of the five initial recipients of the Michael Weiner Scholarship, which was established to recognize, inspire and support the next generation of union leaders and is dedicated to the preservation and growth of the labor movement in the United States.
Since the age of 15, Perez has worked part-time jobs and understands the vulnerability that many at-will employees face in the workplace. However, it wasn’t until her sophomore year of college that she was introduced to labor studies.
“Professor Deborah Gerson introduced me to the field of labor studies and invited me to apply to be a student organizer with the California Faculty Union,” Perez said. “What I learned that year changed my life.”
That’s when Perez learned about the bigger issues of labor policy and began to contribute her voice and passion to justice in the workplace for her community – something she plans to continue after she finishes school.
“When I graduate, it is my intention to work every aspect of the field of labor employment,” Perez said. “Specifically, I hope to negotiate contracts on behalf of labor unions, collaborate with employers to develop policies that comply with labor law, and help develop overall legal strategy.”
With a strong interest in the policy side of labor relations, which she developed through her externship with the Department of Justice, Perez also hopes to eventually work for the government so she can help shape the policy that governs labor relations.
Perez involvement on behalf of others extends past labor relations. As President of the Howard Public Interest Law Society, she recently helped plan Howard Law’s first international legal service trip.
“On March 13, I, along with 13 other law students, will be traveling to Haiti to learn more about international law and policy and to recruit Haitian students to join our university’s LLM [Master of Laws] program.”
Perez credits an incredibly supportive family for nurturing her dedication to community and colleagues in the workplace.
“I have an amazing three-year-old godson (who’s curiosity serves as a constant motivation), a fantastic fiancé, two wonderful siblings, the best parents in the world, and a host of cousins, aunts and uncles in California,” Perez said. “I also have a great group of close friends from law school who make everything from studying to grocery shopping an adventure.”
To be eligible for the Michael Weiner Scholarship for Labor Studies, individuals must be Graduate or Law Students enrolled in accredited educational institutions in the United States or Canada and must have a demonstrated interest and aspire to a career working in the labor movement and on behalf of workers’ rights.
To receive an award, eligible candidates must meet a combination of criteria including a superior academic record, a demonstrated commitment to the labor movement, a strong recommendation from an academic or a labor/worker’s rights practitioner, and an excellent display of written and oral communication skills.
Preference also is given to those who can demonstrate financial need through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) scores or otherwise.
The scholarship application for the 2016 Michael Weiner Scholarship for Labor Studies will be posted in June 2015, at http://playerstrust.org/programs/michael-weiner-scholarship-labor-studies/