The Washington Peace Center continues our new critical conversation series with Dia Bui, Co-Director, and Elizabeth Falcon, Executive Director of DC Jobs with Justice, who discusses her transition into labor from housing, upcoming local campaigns, union engagement in racial justice and the "Ill Be There" Awards.
[Image Description: A head shot of Elizabeth Falcon, a white woman with long brown hair and wearing black shirt.]
I know you also just started as Executive Director a few months ago. Your experience in DC is extensive particularly in housing with the Housing for All campaign. How would you describe your transition from housing coalitions to labor rights?
There are a lot of similarities between the coalitions I’ve worked for. Both are local coalitions that focus on what’s happening in DC and making it a place where people can afford to live and thrive. In the Housing For All campaign, we fought for a wide range of housing and DC Jobs with Justice we support workers from many sectors - retail workers, janitors, electricians, teachers - wide cross section of the work force. The things that are really striking or really new for me in moving into labor the fact that unions are membership organizations, base building organizations. They have leadership structure that are different, and there are lot of opportunities in the ways unions do and can engage their members. It’s also new to me to move from a coalition of nonprofits to unions because unions can engage in the political process differently from nonprofits through endorsements and donations.
How does your identity impact your position socially and professionally inside of social justice movements? How does your identity impact your work now?
I’ll start with the greatest asset is that I’ve been in this work socially and professionally in this area for a long time. I’m building on relationships that I developed through the labor movement in college and by running the “Housing for All” campaign and being active in DC for the last 6 years. I am also a woman, queer, kind of young, white, and many other things. Each of those identities is meaningful to me and I know impact both my experience and how I am perceived in a leadership position. I strive to work with both confidence and humility and greatly appreciate of the many women who have offered to support my increased leadership in the past few months.
With new leadership, what do you want people to know about DC Jobs with Justice (DCJWJ) and the work you are planning to do?
One of the things that’s really important to me about DC Jobs with Justice is that a big part of the mission is to be there for other groups. Our membership is made up of membership organizations, and we work to build bridges and build power between organizations for social justice.
We also have two big campaigns. The Just Hours campaign had a setback this fall when the legislation was tabled this year. The Legislation, Hours Scheduling and Stability Act, would allow for more advanced notice on scheduling and opportunity for full time hours retail and restaurants. Workers are struggling to get enough hours and if they can not get enough hours, getting schedules in advance so they can hold another job, go to school, and manage their childcare.
We’re also working on enforcement of the labor benefits and protections that we and our partners have one over the last couple of years. Making sure that the bosses aren’t asking for criminal records illegally, continually enforcing the wage theft law, that people are getting paid overtime and making sure that employers and government are doing their job to follow the laws and enforce the laws. Keep an eye out for more ways to be involved!
How does DC Jobs with Justice navigate the social justice climate in DC particularly racial justice?
The movement for black lives is the defining social justice movement of our time. I really want DC jobs with justice to be a supporting participant of that movement. Some of the unions in our members have and are doing intentional work around racial justice. Many of our unions, their bases are heavily made of people of color. And also community groups that are members have similarly a spectrum of engagement on racial justice questions. I hope that we can support the leadership of movement for black lives organizations and other orgs led by people of color in changing both outcomes of the lives of people of color in DC and changing the way decision-making power is built.
I’m looking forward to the I'll Be There Awards next week of which you so graciously asked myself and Darakshan to co-host on Thursday, October 20th. Can you share more about the event and what can people expect?
Definitely. The I'll Be There Awards is annual celebration and recognition of the Jobs with Justice community. This year we’ll be recognizing:
- C.H.O.I.C.E. Organizing Committee
- Many Languages One Voice Committee for Labor Solidarity and Worker Power
- Pastor Marvin Owens, Michigan Park Christian Church
- Adam Graubart, DC Paid Family Leave campaign volunteer
It’s a chance for community to come together to celebrate and I am really excited to meet lots of folks who are invested in jobs with justice who I haven’t had the chance to personally connect with. We’re also going to have a high school pop band from Bell Multicultural High School.I hope other folks will come out see old friends in the movement and meet new people.
Are there any readings/articles/podcast that are particularly transformative for you?
I’ve been listening to the “Code Switch” podcast a lot. Part of it is that they are kind of our peers. They are speaking to our generation on things that are happening. I’ve been listening to Codeswitch for a long time and it’s great to see how they’ve grown creating more platforms for more people. Code Switch takes on so many aspects of racial identities in America and also codeswitching. The interplay between people’s personal lives and public lives.
As an organizer, movement builder, what gives you joy?
My community in DC has been really supportive of me. I’ve been through a lot of transitions in the last year in addition to the actual joy of going dancing, seeing my friends’ band and seeing/cooking with people. I’ve appreciated the patience, support and generosity of people close to me and that’s been really meaningful to me.
How can folks support your work and DC Jobs with Justice?
*Special recognition of Amirah Grady, Communications and Policy Intern at the Washington Peace Center for providing support on this edition of Critical Conversation.