Tucked away in the back corner of the seventh-floor Kimmel Lounge, you’ll find CAS senior Haley Quinn creating her own makeshift office: one chair as a desk, one as a seat. Her phone is muted on conference call so it won’t pick up the intrusive sounds of students and her is computer open to her Gmail account, which she uses for both notes and reminders. Her tote bag is marked in large lettering that reads “Pay Your Interns.” It’s far from what you might expect of the 21-year-old who has already been dubbed by the Atlantic as “one of the more remarkable examples of organizing among Millennials.”
Quinn first gained recognition in the summer of 2014 when she and five other interns at the American Federation of Teachers moved to unionize with the Office of Professional Employees International Union.
“At AFT the internship was nice,” Quinn said. “But we knew that internships in general really do suck. A lot of people don’t get paid. A lot of people are really exploited. So we thought that if we organized in a workplace that was already pretty friendly, then also we could have a contract and a clear list of demands to bring into other workplaces to show what an internship should look like.”
Once they had the backing of OPEIU’s president, they began the process. Their first step was a card drive — getting signatures on physical cards from prospective union members. By the end of July, the organizing committee had gotten signatures from all but one or two interns. They were told by the AFT Chief of Staff that it might be better to go to a formal election, to make sure that all interns, new and old, were still on board.
By this time, Quinn and her fellow interns’ time at AFT was coming to an end for the summer. And because Quinn went abroad to NYU London in the fall, the union by necessity got put on the back burner
“I was trying to still keep in touch while I was in London, and I was really set on this happening,” Quinn said. “So for the spring semester, I went to NYUDC, so I could go back and finish what we started.”
Quinn was the only member left of the original six organizing interns, so when she arrived in D.C. in the spring, she had a lot of rebuilding to do. At the end of May, the AFT interns went to election and finally realized their goal.
“It was a big deal for us that interns now had a voice at the table,” Quinn said.
The movement sparked a Huffington Post article that suddenly made her name recognizable among labor movement circles around the country. But Quinn was still only 20, with a full year of college in front of her. She returned to NYU in the fall and became more involved in the Student Labor Action Movement, where she now holds positions on their coordinating and action committees.
Quinn helped organize actions like SLAM’s Fight For $15 rally in Washington Square Park. She juggles her SLAM responsibilities and academic requirements with her job at AFT, which promptly hired her after her internship was over to continue putting together strategically researched worker wage profiles. But she’s done all this without flaunting her experience in others’ faces.
“She’s a leader in that she allows other people to lead,” said Gallatin junior Katie Shane, a fellow coordinating committee member. “You can’t be a good leader until you know how to be a good follower, and she does a really good job of that.”
It has been part of Quinn’s mission for SLAM to continue fighting for those who don’t usually have a voice. LS freshman Donna Gary, who serves on SLAM’s action committee, has only known Quinn for one semester, but has already gained an understanding of her empathy and drive.
“She gets really serious when we’re making sure that women of color have a voice, women in general have a voice,” Gary said. “I felt like I had input, even though I didn’t know what I was doing. I’ve been to different clubs and I’ve never really met someone like that in a leadership position.”
Quinn, a political science major, is now in the dreaded semester before graduation. She’s ready for the professional world, even if she’s not entirely sure where she’ll land within it.
“The original plan coming into college was that I was going to be a politics major and go to law school, but that’s not happening,” Quinn said. “That’s the only scandal I’ve ever caused in my family.”
Quinn hopes to land somewhere near D.C. — this time long enough to establish permanent residency. Though she has spent years fighting for others’ wages, what she’s most excited for after she graduates is earning enough for herself and Comrade, her future Cavalier King Charles spaniel.
“This is my plan, I just need someone to hire me.”