Visibilizing Labor

Erica Smiley

Episode 5

Settle in with Abby and labor organizer Erica Smiley for a free-wheeling conversation about unions, democracy, history, and so much more. Smiley is the Executive Director of Jobs with Justice, a national labor group working to change the meta-narrative about who the economy is for and what it should look like. She is also the author, along with Sarita Gupta, of The Future We Need: Organizing for a Better Democracy in the Twenty-First Century. The book focuses on where the labor movement has been, while also imagining a future in which working people fight to regain power, influence, and dignity not only in the workplace, but beyond. Abby calls the way Smiley frames the concept of collective bargaining “radically important.” According to Smiley, workers who are struggling to form unions at places like Starbucks and Amazon “are seeing their struggles in the workplace not simply as something that they need for themselves…But also as their way of contributing to the effort to save and expand democracy.” She points out that the civil rights movement was also about economic justice. Martin Luther King’s March on Washington was for Jobs and Civil Rights. “Visibilizing” that connection is important, Smiley tells Abby. As they talk, Abby and Smiley travel through time and space, linking up slave labor management to practices still used in today’s service economy. They end by agreeing that it’s better to fight together than apart.

Follow Smiley on Twitter @SmileyJWJ. For more information on Erica Smiley, and her work at Jobs with Justice, go to

Special Guest

Erica Smiley

Executive Director Job With Justice

Erica Smiley is the executive director of Jobs With Justice. A long-time organizer and movement leader, she has been spearheading strategic organizing and policy interventions for Jobs With Justice for nearly 15 years. Prior to taking up her current position with the organization, Smiley served as organizing director for Jobs With Justice developing campaigns that resulted in transformative changes to how working people organize and are civically engaged at their workplaces and in their communities. During her tenure at Jobs With Justice, Smiley has served in numerous leadership capacities including as campaigns director and as senior field organizer for the southern region. Smiley is originally from Greensboro, North Carolina where she is a proud product of public schools. She currently resides in New Jersey alongside her partner and daughter. Smiley is co-author of The Future We Need: Organizing for a Better Democracy in the Twenty-First Century, released in April 2022.

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