Labor Leadership Academy


University of Oregon Labor Education and Research Center
Union and Community Labor Leadership Academy: Intensive Classroom and Field Work

In these extraordinarily challenging times, we urgently need to increase the number of union and community leaders who can mobilize members and activists, build new relationships, and develop and implement winning strategies to improve their workplaces and their communities.

LERC has worked with the Oregon Education Association to develop and help implement a pilot version of the Leadership Academy.

Here’s what Susan Crumpton, Director of OEA’s Union School, has to say about LERC and their Emerging Leaders Academy:  

LERC faculty’s creativity and expertise were essential to OEA developing and implementing our Emerging Leaders Academy.  With the challenges on the horizon, skilling up member-leaders is more important than ever. LERC is a great partner in this work. “


The objective of the Academy is the build participants’ leadership skills by creating a dynamic learning community both inside and outside of the classroom focused on organizing. Together with experienced adult educators, the group will build knowledge and skills, explore strategies, share experiences, and develop relationships that will build movements for transformational social change. Participants will be encouraged to think critically and creatively about the kind of union or organization they want and what it will take to help them move in this direction.

The Academy will include the following components:

  • A cohort that will move through the program together as a close-knit group of leaders and learners.
  • 40 hours of interactive classroom instruction led by LERC faculty and subject-matter experts.
  • Academy Subjects will include personal leadership skills, activist development and mobilization, innovative approaches to enforcing workplace rights and collective bargaining, strategies for promoting racial and gender justice, and developing effective collaborations among unions and with community allies. The Labor Notes book Secrets of a Successful Organizer will be the basic text for the class, supplemented by other materials.
  • Supervised Online Engagement between classes that provides mentorship and feedback, and stimulates critical thinking.
  • A Field Project to build the power and effectiveness of participants’ organizations.
  • Value Added! Academy fees includes registration for LERC’s 2018 Portland Metro Leadership School and the 2018 OR AFL-CIO/LERC Summer School, in addition to all classes and materials for the Academy itself.


  • This program is designed for emerging leaders who are already active in their organizations and communities. We strongly encourage organizations to send pairs or small groups through the Academy together. Academy participants will need support and engagement from the leaders in their organizations as well as LERC.
  • Appropriate Academy participants might include member-leaders, activists, new staff organizers, stewards, committee and board members, new local officers, communication specialists, etc.
  • Participants can come from both public and private sector unions and community-based workers’ justice organizations.
  • Cohorts will have a minimum of 15 people and be capped at 25.

Why a cohort? When people move through a program like this together, their learning is enhanced through their shared experience in the classroom, and by supporting each other in their field projects. The relationships developed within the cohort can enhance the potential for cross-organizational collaboration and movement building. Peer coaching will further serve to solidify and sustain the cohort relationships.

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  • Instruction will be anchored by two LERC faculty and the teaching team will include guest speakers and subject-matter experts.
  • All classes will include interactive exercises and will draw upon the Labor Notes book Secrets of a Successful Organizer.
  • Some reading and writing will be assigned.
  • Academy participants will be required to use a secure on-line bulletin board to share updates and insights
  • In addition to attending all classes, Academy participants should expect to spend 1-2 hours per month on reading and writing, and 8-10 hours per month on their field projects.


  • The Academy will connect classroom learning and real-world practice; participants will work on a field project throughout the Academy. Ideally they will work with a partner or as part of a small team from the same organization or workplace.
  • Projects will be collaboratively designed by Academy participants, LERC faculty, and the leaders of the sponsoring organizations. We will rely upon organizational leadership to help craft and support field projects that fit with the existing priorities and goals of their organizations, and that are important to Academy participants.
  • The tangible benefits we expect the Academy to produce for individuals and their organizations include: skilled-up leaders in workplaces or communities who can move projects forward relatively independently; the organizational development that results from the field projects; critical thinking and problem solving skills for leaders; greater loyalty and attachment to unions and organizations; and concrete improvement in conditions for workers!
  • The scope and timelines for these projects may be quite ambitious or modest depending on the capacity of the organization to support them, and the interest and ability of the Academy participants to take them on. Projects may be designed to be completed during the 5 months of the Academy itself, or may have longer timelines. Even if participants do not complete their projects while they are in the Academy, the expectation is that the skills and confidence they gain through the Academy, and the established support of organizational leadership will allow them to carry forward and complete those projects even after they have graduated from the Academy. Below is a list of sample projects. This list is intended to spark your imagination, not place boundaries on what the projects might be.

Possible Academy Field Projects

  • Mapping and Data Management: This basic organizational skill can operate at a number of levels.
    • Geographic mapping – who is doing what, when, where and with whom in a workplace or community.
    • Issues mapping – finding out what groups of workers care about;
    • Relational mapping – finding out where groups are tight knit and may have built-in leadership structures, and/or where relationships with supervisors or other authority figures may be particularly strong or particularly difficult.
    • Building a communications network: As a basic mobilization tool, building and testing a communications structure for ongoing and/or rapid response action.
    • Membership Drives: Especially in anticipation of the loss of fair share in unionized workplaces, and the need of community organizations to do outreach, build resources and capacity, Academy participants could take on a membership drive as their field project.
    • Issues Campaigns: Designing and implementing a goal-oriented campaign to solve a specific workplace or community problem.
    • Equity & Inclusion: Challenging exclusion and building equity for specific groups of workers or community members facing discrimination.
    • Building Partnerships: Outreach and relationship development between organizations.
    • Developing a stewards program: Whether in unions for contract enforcement, or in communities for basic rights enforcement (e.g. fighting wage theft), developing a program to recruit, develop, train, and support union or community stewards.
    • Developing a contract campaign: Preparing a specific union bargaining unit for contract negotiations.
    • Developing a community service project: Building organizational capacity while meeting the immediate needs of community members. This could be anything from building wheelchair ramps to helping the marginally housed or those facing eviction.
    • Building Committees: Creating effective committees, for example, women’s committees or communications committees.
    • New Employee Orientations: Planning for and implementing approaches to New Employee Orientations that will engage potential new union members from the beginning!
    • Targeted leadership identification and development: Focusing deeply on a single group of workers or community members that may face significant challenges but don’t have the leadership needed to tackle them.
    • Labor-management initiatives: Developing skills to use the LM process in a workplace (union or not) to improve job quality.
    • Developing a political campaign focused on a candidate or initiative: Although the Academy is not a candidate school, a project could certainly focus on the campaign for a pro-worker candidate or initiative.
    • Street Heat: How to design and implement an effective and fun action.
    • Media: Developing media strategies and capacities.

    The academy field projects will be designed to build participants’ union or organization in concrete ways.

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    • After the initial 2-day intensive start-up session, Academy participants will attend one monthly Saturday class.
    • The classes will be organized around three general themes: personal leadership ability, values and vision for unions and other workers’ organizations, and organizing for workplace and community power.
    • Academy classes will cover some or all of the following topics:
    • Leadership styles, strengths, and committee-building
    • Racial and gender justice – an equity and inclusion lens
    • Cultivating organizational cultures for sustainable campaigns
    • Telling your union/activist story, sharing social movement vision & values, and issues identification
    • Organizing conversations, assessment, and follow-up
    • Power mapping
    • Strategic thinking and designing action plans

    Class designs may shift in response to the needs and interests of participants, and/or the requirements of the field projects they are working on.

    Schedule and Location

    • The first cohort will kick off March 2-3, 2018.
    • Saturday classes (subject to change):
      • April 14
      • May 12 (as part of LERC Portland Metro Leadership School)
      • June 2
      • July 7
      • Aug 3-5 (as part of the 2018 Summer School)
      • The location for the Academy classes is yet to be determined. Our intention is to make it as convenient for the participants as possible.

      Academy Certificates, Graduation, and Further Opportunities

      • Successful Academy participants will receive a Certificate of Completion from the LERC and be honored by their fellow cohort members, leaders of their organizations, and others at the 2018 OR AFL-CIO/LERC Summer School.
      • Academy alumni will also be offered opportunities to work with future cohorts throughout Oregon.

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      • The first cohort will be selected on the basis of the strength of applications, the support of organizational leadership for a field project, and the cohesion of a cohort that LERC faculty believe will yield the best results. Admission is not on a first-come-first-serve basis.
      • Applicants will have to submit a letter of support from their organizational leadership along with their application.
      • Registration will open after Thanksgiving, 2017 and close at the end of January, 2018 or when the first cohort is full (maximum of 25).
      • Those who have been successful in the application process will be approved to register.


      Attendee Application Online

      Sponsorship Application Online

      COST: $1200

      • Each registrant beyond the first from the same organization will cost $900.
      • This includes all classes and materials, plus registration for LERC’s Portland Metro Leadership School in May, 2018 and Summer School in August, 2018.

      Contact Sarah Laslett, with questions or to request an application.

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