Aneta Molenda, Digital Campaigner and Strategist, OUR
“I love that everyone in the Cohort is doing vastly different things. Pooling the knowledge together of everyone in the room. You can bounce ideas without judgment. This is a safe space where we can grapple with challenges.”
Meet Aneta Molenda. Aneta describes herself as “an organizer to the core,” which is apropos since she is currently a Civic Hall Organizer-in-Residence (CHOIR). Having previously worked on campaigns for the NY Taxi Workers Alliance, at M + R Strategic Services, and on national campaigns for Planned Parenthood and Fight for $15, she is currently a digital campaigner at Organization United for Respect (OUR). Aneta was hired by OUR to leverage its OURWalmart campaign victories and to lead its online-to-offline organizing program for retail workers more broadly. When she’s not on the phone with organizers or the press, she’s a volunteer at Brooklyn Animal Action, a practicing green thumb, and a ceramicist. You can follow Aneta here on Twitter.
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What Does She Do?
Aneta is a digital campaigner and strategist with Organization United for Respect (which she describes as a “digital first” organization) working on the Rise Up Retail campaign, organizing workers at big-box retailers. OUR was initially funded by the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, (UFCW) and later spun off as an independent organization — adjacent to the traditional labor union movement — with financial support mostly by foundations and grants.
Aneta is focusing on retail because the industry is undergoing tectonic shifts which disproportionately affect women and people of color. For the past seven years, OUR has crashed Walmart’s shareholder meetings. This year OUR had a worker seize the mic demanding that the company release its data on how part-time work at Walmart is gendered. (OUR has a white paper coming out on this within the next month.)
“My day-to-day differs every day… I’m often talking to workers, connecting with reporters, planning big direct actions, making memes, putting together campaign plans, and meeting with partner organizations to create relationships and build a stronger movement. I also train organizers from other labor organizations, unions, and community groups on online-to-offline organizing pathways and digital organizing strategy. I’m leading an intensive two-day training on June 25th and 26th. If folks want more info, they can reach out to me!”
How Did She Get Into This Work?
Aneta is an immigrant from Poland and grew up in working-class New Jersey. She came to the U.S. with her mom as a child through the diversity lottery system. While she only knew two words of English upon her arrival (“Happy” and “Birthday”) her Polish ESL teacher soon had her speaking fluently. Ten years later, Aneta went off to Skidmore College to study neuroscience, but she was shocked by its affluence and was confronted by her lack of class privilege. A required class in sociology re-calibrated not only her major but saw her organizing around first-generation and low-income student issues. When she realized that her own mother wouldn’t visit her on-campus because as a domestic worker she worried about embarrassing her daughter, Aneta became a leader in the efforts of campus service workers to unionize, writing The Beast of Skidmore – an op-ed in the student newspaper on how a wealthy school like Skidmore could and should provide 100% medical to its workers. Aneta succeeded is getting 50% of the student body to sign a petition and presented it unbidden at an Administration bargaining committee meeting. While her mother was terrified that she might lose her financial aid in retaliation, Aneta experienced something of a ‘freedom high’:
“I thought, “This is what I want to do with my life. Be an organizer.”’
What Project(s) Is She Working On?
In the next few weeks – following its fall 2017 bankruptcy filing – Toys ‘R’ Us will close its doors. Despite allocating $348 million for lawyers and bankers, it is reneging on its promise to pay severance to its 33,000 workers. OUR has been working to change this outcome.
“I love this type of alt-labor organizing because in a traditional labor space you’d never be organizing workers who were about to be laid off. U.S. private equity companies pulled out $470M from the company. We’re trying to get Toys ‘R’ Us workers $15,000 each in severance and convince Congress to regulate Wall St leveraged buyouts and share buybacks.” To that end, last week Aneta accompanied workers from MI, AZ, TX, and NC to DC to meet with Bernie Sanders.
They also partnered with the Center for Popular Democracy for an action, occupying the lobby of the American Investment Council.
Aneta is also quite proud of an app that debuted before her time at OUR. WorkIt! uses IBM Watson AI to help Walmart employees get an immediate answer to questions about general labor law, as well as their Walmart-specific policy questions (“Can I be fired for wearing shorts?”) Apart from WorkIt!’s on-demand response, previously workers could only access that info via a manager’s terminal. Today, 10,000 Walmart workers use WorkIt! at least once a week. As part of OUR’s vision to be sustainable, the app can be white-labeled and is already being used by the Australian labor movement. “Not only is WorkIt! giving them the information that they need, but they now see themselves as organizers. We’re bringing those who ask questions into the movement.”
How Did She Come to Civic Hall?
Aneta got started at Civic Hall during the first iteration of the pro-bono tech program, Delta.NYC, and she’s loved the community ever since. Now she’s a part of the Organizers-in-Residence program.
Of CHOIR she notes, “I love that everyone in the Cohort is doing vastly different things. Pooling the knowledge together of everyone in the room. You can bounce ideas without judgment. This is a safe space where we can grapple with challenges.”
What Is Her Ask of Civic Hall?
Sign the severance petition to support Toys ‘R’ Us workers! As of today, it has well over 50,000 signatures.
Earlier this spring Aneta offered a session on using Facebook to Organize Workers at Elana Levin’s Organizing 2.0 conference. She’ll be offering a similar presentation at Civic Hall as part of her residency as an organizer. Watch for the upcoming announcement.