Original article by Jacqueline Tetrault, Pilot Staff. “The Pilot”- Friday, September 6. 2019. (Edited for space by David Kowalski)
When David Kowalski first contacted the Labor Guild, he had no idea he would one day become its president and executive director. He was a worker looking to further his education, like the many others who have benefited from the Guild’s programs throughout its history. I was a utility worker for a gas company and a founder of my local, the Utility Workers Union of America Local 318. “When I became president of the local in 1985, I decided to take courses offered by volunteer instructors at the Labor Guild.”
He described the Guild as a “training camp” for “rank-and-file workers that want to come in and learn how to protect themselves, how to make sure they’re not being taken advantage of by their employers.” “What I learned on Monday nights here, I put into practice on Tuesday morning. So what we do here is real, and it goes into effect, and it makes a difference,” Kowalski said
David graduated from the University of Massachusetts Boston’s Labor Studies Program in 1990 and went on to do graduate studies in Dispute Resolution. Over the course of his 42-year career, he spent about 25 years as an active board member for his union, and more than half of those years serving as its President.
In 2014 he was asked to teach a course at the Labor Guild. Not knowing what to teach, he asked. What is it that I wanted students to learn that I didn’t learn in my formal education?’ “And the one thing I didn’t understand well at the time was how labor unions began and how we got to the predicament we’re in today?” So he put together a course called “Power and Struggle, drawing on economics, government, and the history of the labor movement.
“We’re all about economic and social justice. And this is what we try to teach our students. We try to give them the knowledge and courage to stand up to their employer in the labor-management arena,” “There’s a real hunger for our course curriculum.” He said.
When Franklin Delano Roosevelt was President, there was a “proliferation” of organizing unions. The problem, Kowalski said, was that not everyone knew how to run an effective union. “It was actually the Catholic Church that stepped into that vacuum,” Kowalski said.
Volunteer instructors taught courses about workers’ rights, how to operate unions, and how to communicate between labor and management. The Labor Guild continues this tradition, bringing in academics, attorneys, members of government agencies, and professional negotiators and mediators to teach laborers and management. “We took the mystery out of labor unions,” Kowalski said.
“Even though we’re still a Catholic institution under the wing of the Catholic Church, we’re very much open to everyone,” Kowalski said, noting that the Guild has been an ecumenical group since its inception.
After teaching courses for a few years, Kowalski was asked to join the Guild’s board of directors. In January 2019, he was asked to take over as President and fill the role of Executive Director, where he served in both roles from March 2019 to December 31, 2022. He now continues to serve on the Guild’s Executive Board.