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The way creativity flows through the Skidmore campus gave him a unique perspective on the science of data analysis and neuroimaging, he says. “I am creative about how I use the avail- able paradigms as I think about problems in particular patient populations.” —Janit Stahl


Work and justice


It was a suggestion by Skidmore sociology professor John Brueggemann that led Erin Kain Johansson ’98 to identify union supporters from the secrecy of a hotel closet. While working as a room cleaner at a Sheraton, Johansson recog-


OUT IN THE OPEN: ERIN KAIN JOHANSSON ’98 IS NO LONGER HIDING TO CONDUCT HER RESEARCH AND SUPPORT WORKERS’ RIGHTS.


nized the struggle with low pay and even lower respect that most of the female employees endured. For her, it was just a summer job, but it was their life’s work. Brueggemann urged her to simply ask the women some questions, but Johansson ended up organizing a union vote. Her passion for workers’ rights ignited, she embarked on a lifelong path to expose in- equities and advocate for unionizing. As the director of research for American Rights at Work, Jo- hansson has examined the National Labor Relations Board for seven years. She initially discovered that the NLRB was limited in its ability to fulfill its own mission of protecting workers’ rights through


“UNIONS BRING VALUE TO SOCIETY IN SEVERAL WAYS, AND RESEARCH CAN QUANTIFY THAT WITH HARD NUMBERS.”


collective bargaining. She blames underfunding, political at- tacks, and weak labor laws. Then she saw an opportunity to strengthen the agency when Barack Obama took the US presi- dency. She focused on union election procedures and how they fail to protect workers who try to start a union.


22 SCOPE WINTER 2012


In order to form a new union, workers must secure a vote, but many employers find ways to delay that vote and use the time to run an anti-union campaign. Johansson and her team found that the longer a vote was delayed, the more likely the NLRB would charge employers with illegal activity, but even then there’s very little punishment: “No one is paying atten- tion to the National Labor Relations Board,” Johansson says. Last year the NLRB proposed amendments that would prevent employers from using delay tactics, and Johansson and anoth- er labor expert issued a research paper to support the proposals and underscore the importance of changing the election pro- cedures. She maintains, “Unions bring value to society through work- place democracy, among other things, and research can quantify that with hard numbers. Our re- search shows that although unions are worth saving, it can be very diffi- cult to actually form one.” For a long-overlooked subject, unions have gotten a lot of press re- cently. Johansson says she was ex - cited to see the public employees’ union uprising in Wisconsin last year. “I’ve been in the labor move- ment for 10 years, and very few peo- ple understand my work. Suddenly, there’s a national conversation about it! It’s been extremely gratifying to see people care about having their rights revoked. We can thank Wis- consin Governor Scott Walker for bringing this issue to the forefront of American conversation.” In fact, Jo- hansson and other researchers fol-


lowed up their excitement with action. By providing resources to state scholars who have to testify, Johansson is showing that years of research not only have real relevance in policy debates, but can directly affect the lives of workers. —Robin Dale Meyers


Philosophy and politics


For many people, a trip to France is an opportunity to visit great museums or tour riverside castles. For Skidmore professor Bill Lewis ’94, the destination is the Normandy city of Caen, home to the Institut mémoires de l’édition contemporaine. A repository for 20th-century French publishing and authors, the institute is where Lewis studies the work of Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser (1918–90). Lewis’s philosophical interests were rooted in literature. The Red and the Black, a classic of French fiction by the 19th-century writer Stendhal, was an early influence. He says the novel’s de- pictions of the “ideological divides between church and state and country and city” started him “thinking about history and class.” He majored in philosophy and minored in govern-


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