NSGEU President Goes to Harvard

For five weeks throughout January and February, NSGEU President Sandra Mullen was once again a student. She travelled to Boston, Massachusetts, where she had been selected to participate in an intensive executive training program designed for trade union leaders at Harvard University.

“It’s an educational experience that is designed to connect union leaders from across North Amercan and beyond – in this case, we had New Zealanders participating – with respect to all those parts of the curriculum, working together on leadership, organizing, membership engagement, labour laws, and more,” Mullen explained.

The education is comparable to the advanced education that the institution offers to executive level individuals in Business, Government, and Law, teaching the essential skills for the management and leadership of unions, as well as providing a unique opportunity to explore key issues for the broader labour movement. It allows participants to gain insights into the complex political, social and economic forces that shape their operating environment; exchange perspectives with faculty who are internationally recognized for their expertise on labour issues; develop relationships among people doing similar work in the national and international labour communities; and interact with future leaders in the corporate and public sectors by attending classes at the country’s most prestigious graduate schools of business, education and government.

The curriculum is taught as a series of thematically related seminars and cases, featuring exchanges with innovative practitioners and analysts in a variety of fields. The diverse selection of seminars provide an opportunity for participants to meet a variety of Harvard faculty, faculty from neighboring universities, and senior labour leaders to discuss selected topics of concern to labour the world of work.

Our national union – the National Union of Public & General Employees (NUPGE) – typically awards two scholarships per year for component leaders to attend the program at Harvard. Mullen, who has sat on the board of NUPGE for seven years now through her role with NSGEU, applied for one of those scholarships this year, and was awarded it to attend as a NUPGE component leader.

“I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to participate in such a valuable learning experience,” said Mullen, adding that she was struck by the caliber of faculty that they had leading the programs.

“A lot of days I was in awe of the presenters. If you can run through US labour history with what would have been seven Canadians and three New Zealanders and keep full attention, it was well-delivered,” she added.

One of the most valuable parts of the curriculum for Mullen involved strategic planning and choice. And she was struck by the fact that differences in the political lobbying done in the US compared to here in Canada.

But the real highlight of her time at the prestigious Ivy League school. was the opportunity to connect and share ideas and experiences with other labour leaders.

“We had a lot of AFSCME folks, who are very similar to us with respect to representing government employees from all sectors, as well as nursing unions from across the globe. We were able to work with not only the Massachusetts Nurses Association particularly well there, but there were people in my program who were from the California Nurses, New York Nurses, so just working with them on all that that sector is currently experiencing and what they went through in the pandemic was very interesting.”

*This article appeared in the spring edition of The Union Stand.

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