Summer Experiences: Rising 3L Brandon Vaca, Peggy Browning Fellow, American Federation of Teachers
Rising 3L Brandon Vaca received a highly competitive fellowship from the Peggy Browning Fund (PBF) to work for the legal department of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). Vaca worked remotely for the Washington, D.C.-based organization.
How did you connect with this summer opportunity?
AFT was one of hosts for the Peggy Browning Fellowship Program. Before law school, I was also an AFT member and union representative.
How does your experience connect with what you currently envision doing with your law degree?
I’m very interested in practicing union and employee-side labor and employment law. The Peggy Browning Fellowship Program is designed to support law students interested in careers advocating for workplace justice. The attorneys at AFT were experienced and supportive mentors who introduced me to practicing labor law as part of a union’s in-house legal department.
Please describe a “typical” workday on the job.
A typical workday involved independent work on assignments while being responsive to emails and any requests from staff. Every week I met with my supervisor and attended the legal department meeting where everyone presented and discussed the different projects they were working on. Other days included meetings with department attorneys and attending panels and other programming for Peggy Browning Fellows. Occasionally I sat in on meetings with leadership from union locals, legal proceedings, or preparations/moots.
What is something you learned or experienced that was surprising or particularly compelling during this summer position?
I learned more about how working in the U.S. as a non-citizen can multiply feelings of powerlessness and isolation at the workplace. It was inspiring to see union locals trying to help their members and fellow workers who struggle with these issues. The experience also demonstrated the need for and interrelation between better labor laws and more just and humane laws regarding immigration and non-citizen workers.
What are a couple of your key takeaways from the experience?
It was a joy to work with such experienced and supportive mentors who cared about my development as much as my final work product. It was a privilege to put the legal skills I have learned to use by helping workers, even in a small way, to improve people’s lives through creating just workplaces.
How has your summer experience compared with your expectations?
The experience went beyond my expectations. Given the limitations of remote work, the legal department at AFT made Fellows feel welcome and part of the office. People at the Peggy Browning Fund did a great job helping Fellows connect with practitioners fighting for workers’ rights.
What advice would you offer another law student thinking about working in a similar position next summer?
Do it! Apply as early as you can! The Peggy Browning Fellowship Program is a great opportunity to connect with and learn first-hand from practitioners who are passionate about workplace justice.
How are you spending your free time this summer?
I’m taking time to relax with family, sleep in a few days, and read things I’m not assigned! I’m also applying for clerking jobs, checking in with people I have met in the legal field, and preparing to move back to the Twin Cities. I have high hopes of doing some writing and editing before school starts.
What are you most looking forward to in returning to Minnesota Law this fall?
Seeing everyone! I also look forward to commuting to school again / actually going to work, though I suspect that the joy of commuting won’t last long, and definitely won’t survive the winter.