Speaking for justice in the workplace
Jane Chung and Alex Catsoulis want their new communications firm to be every bit as pro-labor as they are.
The pair last month launched Justice Speaks, a New York-based company that offers strategic communication, campaign strategy and media relations services, building off their parallel careers campaigning for workers’ rights before their professional paths crossed at their last jobs.
“When we speak with prospective clients, [Alex] always says, ‘Your fights are our fights.’ Which sounds like a very cliche thing for consultants to say. It sounds nice on a slide or in some sort of advertising proposal, but it’s true in multiple ways for us,” Chung said, pointing not only to their values, but also to their life experiences and identities.
“When we’re fighting for the working class and worker rights, we’re not fighting some abstract fight that we’re not a part of but we’re doing out of the goodness of our hearts — we’re fighting for our families and communities,” Chung said.
She and Catsoulis met while at the Worker Agency as part of the New York-based team out of a California-based firm.
The women found their way into careers in organizing through different paths. Catsoulis worked at the California Labor Federation and the AFL-CIO. Chung’s career spanned from working at Public Citizen, as well as on Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Mass.) presidential campaign, after starting her post-college career at Facebook.
Chung joked the work she does now is, in part, to “pay penance” for her time at the tech giant.
Both said they’ve noticed an increase in action and attention in the pro-worker space in the tech industry and beyond.
Catsoulis called it a “different world” for labor organizing compared to the roughly half-decade ago when she was working at AFL-CIO. Lately, she said, she can’t even check Twitter or read the news without seeing another group of workers unionizing, from Amazon warehouses and Apple stores to those in Starbucks and Trader Joe’s.
One of the groups Justice Speaks is working with is the Athena Coalition, a group of local and national organizations aiming to curb power at Amazon and push for workers’ rights.
Their clients also include United Teachers Los Angeles, the labor union for more than 35,000 public school educators in Los Angeles, as well as Detroit Action, a housing, economic and racial justice group focused on city and state legislation.
A Gallup poll from August found Americans’ support of organized labor is at its highest point since 1965, with 71 percent of respondents indicating support for labor unions.
An Economic Policy Institute report released in January showed an uptick in union organizing last year.
The report, based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the National Labor Relations Board, found that 200,000 more workers in the U.S. were represented by a union in 2022 compared to 2021, for a total of more than 16 million union-represented workers.
Between October 2021 and September 2022, the National Labor Relations Board also saw a 53 percent increase in union election petitions, the highest single-year increase since 2016, according to the same report.
“The labor movement is so encompassing to all these social justice fights that a lot of people are interested in now, especially young people. Even climate justice is at the forefront right now,” Catsoulis said.
“I think the labor movement, as much as it is still in the past in some ways, has the ability to really propel young people — and more people in this day and age — into the movement because it really does kind of cover all the bases,” she added.
Given the rise in organizing, Chung and Catsoulis said they are looking to fill a hole they see in the market by launching a firm run and led by two women of color.
“It’s a small world, the progressive communications industry, but it is surprisingly lacking in a lot of ways. And that’s sort of what we aim to address with starting Justice Speaks. First and foremost, there’s a real dearth of diverse voices leading communications,” Chung said.
At the moment, Justice Speaks is fully run by its two founders. As they grow, the founders said they’re leading with their values and won’t jump to add any new workers without being able to provide the working conditions they help their clients advocate for.
“The way that we want to run our business is not driven by metrics, like number of employees or revenue, but truly by values. And so, if and when we do grow, I think we’ll be committed to ensuring that we’re in a place to be able to do that to really nurture and grow talent,” Chung said.
Catsoulis said she wants her and Chung’s vision to be “uncompromising.”
“I feel like women of color always have to kind of bend or sacrifice things to kind of fit in a mold, and I don’t want Jane and I to do that. I don’t want us to have to take on maybe a corporate client or someone we really don’t believe in because we feel we have to get more money in order to support a bunch of different people,” Catsoulis said.
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