Pioneer Valley Workers Center co-founder steps down

  • GAZETTE FILE PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS GAZETTE FILE PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Rose Bookbinder of the Pioneer Valley Workers Center speaks April 10, 2018, during a press conference at the Unitarian Society of Northampton and Florence, which is providing Russian-born immigrant Irida Kakhtiranova sanctuary from deportation. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO/SARAH CROSBY

  • U.S. Sen. Ed Markey enters First Congregational Church of Amherst, Jan. 29, 2018, with Caroline Murray and Rose Bookbinder for a meeting with Lucio Perez of Springfield, an undocumented Guatemalan immigrant facing deportation, who was given sanctuary at the church. Murray is an Amherst Town Meeting member and helped the town become a sanctuary city. Bookbinder is a lead organizer for the Pioneer Valley Workers Center, which organized the meeting. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO/jerrey roberts

  • Northampton Police Officers Rebecca Mazuch, right, and Paul Marguet talk with a group petitioning outside of Zen restaurant on Main Street in May 2016, the day after the business closed. From left are Rose Bookbinder and Gabriella dell Croce of the Pioneer Valley Workers Center, Matt Szulborski and Patrick Burke of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1459 in Springfield and Caitlin DuBois of Unite Here. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 2/14/2021 7:34:22 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Rose Bookbinder has stepped down as co-director of the Pioneer Valley Workers Center, an organization she helped found.

The workers center is a nonprofit that was launched in 2014 to build power for low-wage and immigrant workers in western Massachusetts.

Bookbinder’s last day at the Northampton organization was Thursday.

“It’s bittersweet,” said Bookbinder. “It’s hard to leave a place I’ve been for so long.”

Bookbinder said the workers center, which has undergone tremendous growth, is restructuring. However, she said she will continue to be a supporter.

“I’m in this work for the long haul,” she said.

As for what she plans on doing next, Bookbinder said she’s “exploring some different things” and is looking to work with nonprofits on the national level or with organized labor. She also intends on taking a month off.

Among her memories of her time with the workers center, Bookbinder cited the Solidarity in the Streets campaign, which has organized resistance to the deportation of immigrant residents and workplace exploitation.

She also noted the passage of wage theft ordinances the workers center has supported, building coalitions to fight for economic, immigrant and worker justice, and Lucio Perez welcoming the Workers Center into his campaign.

Perez, a Guatemalan immigrant, has been in sanctuary at the First Congregational Church in Amherst since 2017 to prevent Immigration and Customs Enforcement from deporting him.

“A lot of people came to realize that their liberation was bound to each other,” said Bookbinder.

Eve Weinbaum, the director of the Labor Center at UMass Amherst and a member of the workers center board, said the center was Bookbinder’s brainchild, which she brought to Weinbaum when she was studying for her master’s in labor studies.

“She really held onto that idea and made it a reality,” said Weinbaum.

Weinbaum also said that the next phase of the center will be “centered on the members.”

“I think the whole board of the workers center wishes Rose well,” said Weinbaum. “I know she’ll go on to do great things.”

The center’s other co-directors are Andrea Schmid, Gabriella Della Croce and Margaret Sawyer.

Bookbinder said that the Occupy Wall Street movement helped inspire her to create the workers center, and she also cited her time working for the United Auto Workers as an influence. Additionally, she cited the influence of having been a restaurant worker on and off for 10 years, where she did such jobs as dishwashing, bussing and waitressing.

“I saw really deeply the divides between the back of the house and the front of the house,” she said.

She said also that she noticed how she, as a white woman, was treated differently from restaurant workers of color, both on the job and when they were organizing.

“That was a foundational experience for me,” she said.

State Rep. Carlos González, D-Springfield, expressed sadness at Bookbinder’s departure and admiration for the work she has done with the immigrant community.

“She was able to not only work on their behalf, she was able to organize them,” González said.

He also said that working with Bookbinder on behalf of his immigrant constituents was “an honor.”

Roman Behrens is a former Iron Horse Entertainment Group employee, who along with others has worked with Bookbinder, the workers center and the Massachusetts attorney general’s office to build a case against Iron Horse owner Eric Suher for alleged wage theft and other offenses.

Behrens said he found it surprising that Bookbinder was leaving.

“I’m happy for what she’s doing next,” said Behrens.

Behrens also said that he’s only had positive experiences with the workers center and that he looks forward to continuing to be involved with it.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.


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