James Douglas first got involved at the Workersâ€™ Center after working at a now defunct BBQ restaurant in Ithaca called Hogsback that was on the Northside. Several employees had been working for over a month without getting paid, and when it got to be too much, they came as a group to the Workersâ€™ Center. The Workersâ€™ Center helped to try and recover the lost wages.
â€œI was quite inspired by the off-the-books style of the Workersâ€™ Center,â€ says James. â€œA lot of problems that people are dealing with are unconventional, and so it sometimes requires unconventional solutions to actually solve the problem. Basically, I came because I needed help, and I stayed because of the ability to help others.â€
James became a Community Union organizer, which is a group of workers at the Workersâ€™ Center who act as both a support group to each other but also think about ways to get active in the community around work justice issues. It trains people to become activists, and work together.
â€œBeing a CUO gives me the confidence to be someone that people can come to if they need advice or simply want to talk about something at work,â€ says James. â€œI believe the CUOâ€™s have a lot of potential to develop leaders within the community, and then be of real service to people who are having issues with their jobs.â€
â€œIâ€™ve had a few different jobs over the years. I was a part-time library clerk for five years during high school and my freshman year of college. Since then Iâ€™ve worked in a few more libraries, several restaurants, and have had several stints doing cold-call telephone surveys. I worked for a while as a paralegal with Neighborhood Legal Services, where I learned to combine challenging work and a new perspective on what kinds of problems people are facing in their day-to-day lives. I now work for the Tompkins County Office of Human Rights.â€
Seeing his leadership potential, we asked James to come onto the Leadership Team (our Board) in 2010. After two years, we then asked him to become the Chair, which he has been doing for three years now.
“To me, the Workers Center is first and foremost about helping people with their problems at work. Then, itâ€™s about seeing what we can do, on a larger level, to make sure that those problems don’t happen in the first place.”
James was born and raised in Ithaca, and spent three years completing a degree in humanities at Binghamton University. He loves the outdoors, especially playing soccer, biking, canoeing, and gardening.