Union Semester is a college internship program, offered by the Murphy Institute, part of the City University of New York, in collaboration with the New York City Central Labor Council. This unique program draws undergraduate students, recent graduates and graduate students from across the country and around the world. They gain hands-on experience in unions and other social justice organizations while they continue their college education. Students work 32 hours a week with a union or union-affiliated community organization, attend CUNY labor studies classes in the evening and earn college credit for both.
Union Semester follows the general academic calendar of CUNY. Interns participate in a week-long orientation at the Murphy Institute before beginning their 15-week internship. Students work at their internship sites a maximum of 32 hours a week. This may include weekends and evening hours if they do not interfere with the program's class schedule. The work schedule should be determined jointly by the host union and the student intern. When interns work a full 8-hour day, they are entitled to a 30-minute lunch break during that period.
Types of Internships
Interns may be placed in a variety of departments or areas: organizing, research, community outreach, publications, education, communications and political action, among others.
The program has admitted students from public and private institutions across the country, including the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Oglethorpe College, New York University, Vassar College, Stanford University, University of Idaho, Swarthmore College, University of Michigan, Evergreen State College, William Patterson University, University of Vermont, Temple University, University of California Santa Cruz, Sarah Lawrence College and John's Hopkins.
The application process requires a 500-word essay, a phone interview, a transcript review, a writing sample, and two letters of recommendation. In general, students accepted to the program have above-average grades. While many are pursuing undergraduate degrees, a number are recent college graduates. Generally, students are in their 20s. Many have experience in campus or community advocacy. All are motivated to work for social and economic justice. Each student is matched to a local union or affiliated community organization through a collaborative placement process. This involves resume reviews and in-person interviews during the program's orientation week. In the end, the Program Coordinator determines the most appropriate placements.
Before the start of a field placement, host unions receive information on the particular experience and skills of each intern. Each host union must provide a mentor and a site supervisor (who may or may not be the same person) who develop a specific work plan with the intern. The work that is assigned should provide a meaningful experience both for the host and the intern. With appropriate supervision, interns can be assigned a variety of tasks, such as research, writing, designing fliers, phone-banking, canvassing, planning and implementing action plans, participation in organizing campaigns and attending union meetings. The mentor should meet with the intern once a week to discuss the work in its larger social, political and organizational context. These weekly meetings are also a time to evaluate the student’s progress and discuss any problems or issues of concern.
In exchange for the services of the intern, host organizations are asked to provide $6,550 which includes 1) a scholarship of $1,900, 2) a weekly stipend of $210, and 3) MetroCards for the duration of the program. Payments are due in two equal installments.