By Evan Henerson
By her own admission, Guild Organizer Seo Yun Son followed “an unconventional path into the labor movement.” Nobody in her family or immediate circle of friends were union members or had ever worked on behalf of organized labor.
Son came to the United States from Korea as an undocumented immigrant in the late 1990s. After studying at UCLA and working in the garment district in downtown L.A., she began her career with the Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance (KIWA) before eventually being recruited by AFT 1521 Organizing Director Chase Golding as a trainer for the Organizing Institute of the LA County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO. When the opportunity arose for her to join Golding at the Guild, she jumped at the chance.
But regardless of how she arrived as lead organizer at the faculty union, the path Son charted was clearly the correct one. She started work in February of 2020, just before the COVID-19 pandemic upended the educational system and forced the district to pivot to online learning. Even with the pandemic, the work did not stop.
Over the course of an eventful 12 months on the job, Son has been a key player in the establishment of the Guild’s contract action team (CAT) structure and the subsequent contract ratification. The organizing department also worked heavily on the successful Colleges We All Deserve campaign on behalf of a winning slate of LACCD trustees elected in November.
“I’m really proud that the members showed up for one another,” said Son. “There has been a huge display of solidarity during the contact campaign. I know that our members are devoted to improving student learning conditions, while also dealing with the fact that working conditions for educators must be satisfactory for them to succeed.”
“We had a few slogans during the campaign one being ‘faculty equity equals student success,’” she continued. “It was so powerful because I think our members really recognized their dual roles as workers in their profession as well as leaders for their communities and advocates for their students.”
It wasn’t so long ago that Son was herself both a student and an advocate. While majoring in fine arts at UCLA, Son joined student groups that organized and fought on behalf of undocumented immigrants. That experience would later serve her well as she moved into the arena of education.
“I was working many odd jobs, including teaching at an after school Korean academy where I related to the struggles of both students and educators,” she said. “Simultaneously, I was an undocumented worker in the garment industry, a student who struggled with housing and food insecurity, and a mentor for my students. Instead of being a single voice, I wanted to learn how to organize and be part of a collective effort to speak out against rampant workplace abuse I was facing at the time as well as fight for student needs we had at school."
In joining 1521 members who work for the largest community college district in the country, Son has noted that many teachers and students face significant challenges.
“We’ve seen that COVID has unveiled even more the systemic racism and economic inequities that exist in our communities, making the work even more daunting,” she said. “I just hope that we can continue to stand united to confront these inequalities. We fight for access to not just education for students in community college, but for healthcare, racial justice, and the larger needs of our communities. There’s a lot of work ahead of us.”