Despite living in the D.C. area for most of my life, before this past June, I had yet to even see the Department of Labor or know its mission. When I was accepted for an internship placement through the OCA program in May, I figured the work would be dry and non-substantive. Thankfully, I was wrong and have gained much more from this experience so far than I ever expected to.
OCA was originally founded as the Organization of Chinese Americans in 1973 and is now a is a national organization dedicated to advancing the social, political, and economic well-being of Asian Pacific Americans in the United States. The summer internship program places APA youth in government, congressional, and non-profit workplaces to learn about issues that affect the APA community on all levels. There are a total of 24 undergraduate interns in this year’s program. We meet weekly to learn about issues as well as attend workshops and social events to get to know each other better.
I was placed at the Department of Labor in the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP). Currently, I work on projects for Les Jin, the deputy director, and various other managers and special assistants in the agency. I have the unique opportunity of working in all parts of the agency, so I have acquired knowledge of a little bit of everything OFCCP does to enforce workers’ rights. I have worked on Limited English Proficiency plans by surveying all the districts across the country on what languages they encounter in those areas. I have also worked on the operating plan, discrimination fact sheets, as well as sit in on meetings about the White House Initiative for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
Even as an intern, I am learning so much about workers’ rights and am working to convey the messages I have learned to the general public through the various projects I’ve been working on. For example, the fact sheets I have been working on inform workers of federal contractors and subcontractors what their rights are and if they are being discriminated against. By providing the tools and the framework to allow workers to formally complain to us, we can then enforce these rights in the workplace, making sure that working families do not need to suffer just to get by.
As a Foreign Affairs and Economics major at the University of Virginia, I hope to one day work for the Foreign Service or in the developmental politics and economics field, specializing in the Middle East or South Asia. I think DOL will prepare me for my career because I am learning about different labor and civil rights issues, as well as how a government agency functions and relates to its people.
Editor’s Note: The author, Sereen Thahir is a summer intern in the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs.