School of Continuing and Professional Studies > About > Labor Education Center

Labor Education Center

​​​​​​​​​​​​​About the Labor Education Center

The roots of what is now the DePaul University Labor Education Center go back to 1948. Since that time, we have served as a resource for students, labor activists, academics and community leaders seeking a deeper understanding of labor issues and tools to gain economic justice for poor and working-class peoples. At our center, we challenge each other to consider #WhatElseMustBeDone to promote a transformational labor movement. Guided by this mission, we build the capacity of unions, worker centers, and community-based organizations through adult and youth labor education, trainings, public events, awareness building, consultations, resource sharing, and research.

For more information on our programs, on ways to get involved, or to support our work, please contact us at, subscribe to our email newsletter, and follow us on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

Please consider supporting our work by making a tax-deductible donation.

What We Offer

Building on students’ existing knowledge and skills, the center provides in person and online classes and trainings led by highly trained instructors with real world labor and organizing experience. We strive to help labor movement activists, members, stewards, officers and staff improve their skills and prepare them to take on new levels of leadership.

Labor Leadership Certificate Program

Through progressive coursework, our six-course "Labor Leadership Certificate" program develops the skills and leadership abilities of activists, student leaders, members, stewards, officers, and staff from unions, worker centers, and community-based organizations. Each course helps students gain a deeper understanding of labor issues and build skills to achieve economic and social justice.  Students leave this program with more knowledge and tools to engage in enforcement of contractual and labor law, effective organizational communication tools (visual, written, verbal, and social media based), arbitration, organizing, bargaining practices and strategies, and a knowledge of labor history and political economy.  Completion of our Certificate indicates you have essential training to fulfill your roles more effectively and to better support your fellow peers, members and co-workers while you strengthen your respective organizations. It also certifies that you are equipped to move into higher levels of leadership or employment in your union, worker center, or community-based organizations.  Please note: Each of the six Labor Education courses can be taken individually or all together to earn the Certificate.  The following classes are held during weekly sessions in the fall from September through November, and in the winter from January through March:

Learn more or enroll here.

Individualized Trainings

We work with unions, worker centers, and community-based organizations to provide tailored trainings to fit their needs. Such workshops have included but are not limited to providing an introduction to the labor movement, labor history, stewardship and grievance handling, addressing sexual harassment and racial discrimination, internal and external organizing, campaign mobilization, labor-community partnership, research skills, public speaking, labor law, contemporary labor issues, contract administration, labor-management relations and organizational solidarity building, as well as in depth trainings on any of the topics from our Labor Leadership Certificate Program classes.   These workshops can be held at our office, your office, or virtually.

To foster a multi-generational labor movement, we provide multiple youth programs aimed at developing pipelines for youth involvement and leadership development.

Regina V. Polk High School Program

The Center’s Regina V. Polk High School Program provides labor education curriculum to more than a thousand Illinois high school students annually. This program is run in celebration of the late Regina V. Polk and thanks to the generous support of the Regina V. Polk Scholarship Fund for Labor Leadership. Regina’s life was sadly cut short in 1983 when she was killed in a plane crash at the age of 33. We pay tribute to Regina’s trailblazing work – from organizing and supporting displaced workers, to efforts to expand opportunities for women in the labor movement – by educating and seeking to inspire a new generation of labor leaders. The program includes:

  • Collective Bargaining Role Plays: Mock labor negotiations are held in coordination with local high schools and volunteer coaches, providing students a chance to engage in and experience contract negotiations in a half-day simulation that brings the process to life.  Check out a recent article in The Nation featuring this program.

  • Union Summer School: In our intensive one-week union summer school program, Chicago area high school students learn about the labor movement, its history, collective bargaining, their rights, and how organized labor is critical to achieving economic justice.

Breving-Rosenberg High School Summer Internship Program

Our Center offers paid internships for high school students in coordination with local union and worker center campaigns.  Youth that actively participated in our Union Summer School are invited to apply the following summer.  Our internship trains participants on social justice and labor issues, and places them with local unions, worker centers, and community-based organizations in the Chicagoland area to get hands on organizing experience.  They are provided with an orientation and weekly cohort meetings focused on helping them learn about the labor movement, social justice, and understand their role in strengthening rights for all workers.

College Fellowship for Worker Justice  

Our College Fellowship for Worker Justice is a labor leadership training and mentorship series for a cohort of ten Chicago area college and university students who are currently or have recently been employed. It aims to educate and engage young workers about the labor movement, their rights, and leadership skills to help them stand up for such rights. It also seeks to serve as a pipeline for youth involvement and leadership development in the labor movement.  Comprising about 20 hours of commitment per month, Fellows will participate in monthly live virtual trainings from January through May and be responsible to complete additional readings and assignments. The training topics will include the following topics: Labor History and Lessons for today, Introduction to Workers Rights, Building power for workers, Leadership in your workplace, and Growing your Leadership Long Term.  The trainings also incorporate guest speakers as well as instruction on digital tools used in organizing campaigns.  Upon completion of the Fellowship, with full attendance to the trainings and all assignments turned in, Fellows will receive a stipend. They will also be invited to participate in ongoing meetings with Center staff for mentorship, access to resources, and updates on career opportunities in the labor movement.

Applicants must

  • Be an 18-24 year old student currently enrolled at a college or university in the Chicago area
  • Be currently employed or employed for at least 2 months in the last 2 years
  • Be well-organized, reliable, and able to work independently
  • Demonstrate a commitment to values of democracy, inclusivity, racial, economic, and social justice, advocacy, equality, diversity.
  • BIPOC, women, and those with at least a year of experience working or volunteering with social justice related organizations are strongly encouraged to apply.

 To apply for the 2022 Fellowship,  visit by December 1, 2021. 



Our center also conducts public in person and online programming to promote a broader understanding about the labor movement and issues affecting poor and working-class peoples.  We offer regular educational events, workshops, and webinars for students, community members, and labor leaders throughout the year to facilitate learning, open discussions, and new initiatives.

In addition, our center provides strategic consultations for those seeking support in organizing, capacity building, and other needs.  We also strive to be a clearinghouse of information, contacts, and resources regarding labor issues.  Finally, we conduct scholarly independent and collaborative research with unions, worker centers, and community-based organizations on labor market and movement trends, labor rights, campaign, policy, and member-focused projects. We are trained in qualitative, quantitative, survey, historical, and analytical research methods, and are also part of the Labor Research and Action Network (LRAN) which connects with researchers across the country.

Who We Are​

Jessica Cook

Dr. Jessica Cook-Qurayshi, Director

Jessica began her work with the Center as the Lead Instructor in January 2016 and became the Director of the Center in August 2016. Jessica joined the labor movement as a staff organizer and staff union steward at the UNITE HERE international from 2006-2009. She then spent 7 years as a leader and steward with the Graduate Employees Organization (IFT-AFT Local 6297) while working as an instructor in Sociology at UIC, where she earned her PhD. She has also worked closely as a volunteer and researcher with multiple Chicago based worker centers since 2010. Jessica has a PhD in Sociology from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her doctoral research focused on the labor movement, worker centers, mass incarceration and criminalization, immigration, citizenship, race and ethnicity, civil society, precarious work, and labor market restructuring. She is a founding board member of Temp Worker Justice, an Advisory Committee member of the Labor Research Action Network (LRAN), and a board member at the Chicago Women in Trades (CWIT). Email Jessica at

Jessica Cruz

Jessica "Jessie" Samara Cruz Pineda, Associate Director

Jessie joined the Center in the fall of 2021 as Associate Director. Her journey with the labor movement started in 2013 where she got involved on social entrepreneurial projects and public policy around labor conditions of non-unionized workers, especially indigenous, low-income, and immigrant workers in Mexico. She is originally from Mexico City and has traveled to different parts of the world thanks to her work with Mexican and Latin American communities around public health and youth development. She found her passion for occupational safety and health during her internship in Laurea UAS in Vantaa, Finland in 2017. She went on to complete her Masters Degree in Business Analytics in Hult IBS - Boston, and has been using her analytics, digital organizing, and public health skills to work for the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health since 2019. She has also served as leadership and career mentor for Latinx highschool, undergraduate, and graduate students as well as young professionals with interest on research and data strategy for the past 10 years through Tecnológico de Monterrey (ITESM) and the National Hispanic Institute. Email Jessie at

Makalya Jackson

Makayla Jackson, Program Assistant

Makayla Jackson joined the Center as a Student Worker in September 2020. She was born and raised on Chicago’s South side. She has been involved in “Teen REACH,” a youth educational mentoring program, since she was 14 years old until this past June 2020. She is a junior at DePaul University majoring in Psychology and minoring in African and Black Diaspora Studies. She is also a DePaul Leadership Scholar in which she gets training on Socially Responsible Leadership and participates in community engagement and service following the Vincentian tradition. Throughout her years, she has tried to spread awareness on issues affecting the Black community and let people, especially youth, know that they have a voice. Email Makayla at


Our Instructors include Advisory Committee members and other partners with significant real world labor and organizing experience.  They are committed to helping students improve their skills and prepare them to take on new levels of leadership.

Betty McShan-Boles

Betty started her journey with SEIU Local 73 as a member in November 1981 while working at the Chicago Housing Authority and as an employee of SEIU Local 73 September 1997 for a combined total of thirty (38) years. Being concerned about language she wanted to see in her contract, ran for the position of Union Steward and won. She then ran for a seat on the bargaining committee and was elected by her colleagues. Due to her efforts, paid maternity benefits were included in the collective bargaining agreement between SEIU Local 73 and the Chicago Housing Authority. In October 1989. Betty’s hard work led her to be elevated to the position of Chief Union Steward. As Chief Union Steward and Executive Board member, Betty was blessed to attend a conference in New Orleans whereby the AFRAM Caucus was born. Betty has served as a member and President of the Chicago Chapter, Vice President - Central Region and current National Board Member representing Retirees. Betty’s dedication to fighting for the rights of others to be heard and fair treatment in the workplace stood out among her colleagues and came to the attention of then President Tom Balanoff and Executive Assistant to the President Christine Boardman and in September 1997 she was offered a position as Union Representative. Betty continued to climb the ladder of success at SEIU Local 73 under the leadership of Christine Boardman while continuing to advocate for the rights of members that she represented. Betty was promoted to Senior Union Representative in September 1999, Director of the Cook County Division in September 2001 and Vice President in October 2004 where she was reelected four times. On April 26, 2019, Betty retired from SEIU Local 73 but remains active in the struggle for equality and justice for all as a retiree. Betty is also known for her extensive service to her community. Betty has dedicated her life and made it her mission to seek social and economic justice for all. She has skillfully trained many individuals throughout the labor movement to ensure their success as effective labor leaders in their respective workplaces. Her motto is “each one, teach one.”

Jessica Espinoza

Jessica Espinoza

Jessica Espinoza's journey in labor started off as an SEIU Local 503 state employee while she earned her Bachelor of Arts in International Studies and Political Science from Portland State University. Upon completion of her undergraduate degree, she spent the next 15 years working in various organized labor settings with workers across a variety of industries including state sector, healthcare, janitorial, as well as communications. Supplementing her union staff experience, Jessica has volunteered over the years with various worker education organizations focused on building & developing leadership among rank and file community and labor organizations. Her passion for learning continues as she pursues her Master's degree in Labor Studies with the University of Massachusetts Amherst. In the fall of 2019, she joined the DePaul Labor Education Center as the Associate Director until the fall of 2021 and now serves as an instructor as well as an Advisory Committee member. Currently, she works in a leadership capacity with the Make the Road familia where she contributes to the development of a national platform unifying grass roots immigrant led community organizing efforts.

Meg Lewis

Meg Lewis

Meg is Director of Policy and Special Projects at AFSCME Council 31, the statewide Council representing 75,000 public sector and public service workers. Meg is a proud 5th-generation union member originally from Sheboygan, WI. She has held several positions in AFSCME from strategic research to campaign coordinator and has led organizing, public policy and contract campaigns to build power, fight privatization and improve working conditions among healthcare workers, disability care workers, taxi drivers and human service workers. She also leads her unions' coalition work with community-based organizations advocating for protecting and expanding public services and public safety-net programs. Prior to working for AFSCME, Meg served as Public Affairs Coordinator for 9to5, National Association of Working Women, a labor advocacy organization working to raise standards for low-wage women, and Community Organizer for a Living Wage campaign run by the South Central Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO. She also served as steward with the National Organization of Legal Services Workers, UAW Local 2320. She has a BA in Journalism and Latin American Studies from the University of Wisconsin and a Masters' degree in Labor Studies from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Khristian G. Parker

Khristian G. Parker

Khristian is General Counsel for Teamsters Local Union No. 705. Ms. Parker is the first African-American and the second woman to serve as general counsel in Local 705’s 100-plus year history. Her role is to create and execute the union’s legal strategies, and advise the local’s Executive Board regarding the day-to-day administration of the local. Ms. Parker also represents the local in litigation matters in federal and state court, and in front of administrative agencies such as the NLRB, EEOC, ILRB, IDES, and IDHR; and represents the local and membership in grievance arbitrations. Prior to her current position, Ms. Parker was a staff specialist attorney for the Illinois Nurses Association. Additionally, she worked as a judicial extern for the Honorable Mark J. Lopez, Circuit Court of Cook County, the INA, and the Cook County Public Defenders’ Office. Ms. Parker is a member of the Cook County Bar Association, the Union Lawyer Alliance of the AFL-CIO, the Institute for Law in the Workplace. Additionally, she sits on the Board for the Hyde Park Parent Cooperative Learning Center and the Alumni Council at Northern Illinois University College of Law.



​View our 2021 Annual June Fundraiser event here and read our ad book here!

In recognition of organizations that go above and beyond in supporting the work of our Center, we are pleased to offer the following levels of sponsorship.  Please contact us at so we can identify which sponsorship level works best for your organization. We thank our sponsors for their ongoing commitment to promoting a transformational labor movement!  

  • Gold level sponsor $10,000
  • Silver level sponsor $5,000
  • Bronze level sponsor $2,500

Silver Level

IBEW Local 21


Bronze Level

Teamsters Local 705
Chicago Federation of Labor

Powering Chicago
SEIU Local 73

Silver Level

IBEW Local 21
Powering Chicago

Bronze Level

Teamsters Local 705