Before Tyler Somes found himself at the University of Texas School of Law, with a growing passion for labor studies, he was an international affairs major at George Washington University.
As an undergraduate, Somes, who is from Honeoye Falls, NY, traveled to the West Bank to gain first-hand experience in his chosen field of study, by working at summer camps for grade school students, which were affiliated with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency as well as Amideast, an international non-profit organization.
It was in his first days there that Somes was inspired by the workers, who had decided to take collective action to help resolve a local labor dispute.
“When I arrived, my start date was pushed back because the Palestinian United Nations employees were on strike,” said Somes, who is among the five recipients of a 2017 Michael Weiner Scholarship for Labor Studies recently announced by the Major League Baseball Players Trust. “Before long the strike was resolved, but this piqued my interest in the labor movement as a vehicle for social change.
“When I got back to the United States, I jumped into the labor movement with both feet. With a few other students, I launched a student-labor solidarity group on campus, interned with The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations and volunteered for the Restaurant Opportunities Center.”
Somes added that these experiences helped him land his first job in the labor movement as an organizer with SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, supporting healthcare workers in their attempts to form unions in their respective workplaces.
“I believe all workers should be able to negotiate the terms of their employment collectively alongside their coworkers without interference from their employer,” Somes said. “That means everyone from fast food workers and farmworkers to physicians and professional athletes.”
That is where Somes’ philosophy ties in with that of the Major League Baseball Players Association.
“Because of the high profile of major league athletes, their exercise of collective bargaining has an outsized impact on the popular discourse around labor rights,” said Somes, who applied for the Michael Weiner Scholarship for Labor Studies while attending a Peggy Browning Fund Worker’s Rights Conference. “Ultimately, I think that’s a very helpful thing not only for the players themselves, but also for other groups of workers endeavoring to form unions and secure collective bargaining agreements.
“As an avid baseball fan and a committed labor organizer, it seemed like a great match. I’m thrilled that it worked out.”
Along the way, Somes gained an appreciation for the range of work the Players Trust is performing.
“I think the work of the Players Trust in communities around the country is fantastic. Expanding the range of activities sponsored and nurtured by organized labor beyond collective bargaining is important to building a culture of solidarity. In the past, unions arranged summer camps for kids, art exhibitions, camping trips and colleges. These activities weaved labor solidarity into the fabric of union member’s lives. Nowadays we’ve gotten away from those things and it’s good to see the MLBPA engaging in communities in creative and impactful ways.”
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 recommend ation 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 2018 Michael Weiner Scholarship for Labor Studies will be posted here in July 2017.