What to do with an environmental / geography degree? Union Negotiator

Jawara Gairey is Acting Regional Coordinator - Ontario for the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC). He graduated with a Bachelor's of Environmental Studies (BES) in 2005.

What is your job like? 

My substantive position is a Negotiator. I negotiate terms and conditions of employment for workers through collective bargaining.

I've recently been involved in an action research initiative on Environmental Racism with the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, and a series of workshops about environmental racism called "Green is Not White".

Tell us your work journey after the degree: what went well? What was challenging?

What went well: I worked for a couple of trade unions. Did some educational and human rights consulting. I was able to broaden my knowledge and perspectives on environmental justice to include social justice. This allowed me to focus on areas of Human Rights, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

Challenges: It was challenging to shift the culture within organizations, especially around equity. I ended up at PSAC as a Negotiator and have been doing some Acting management roles within the Union.

How did you use what you learned? When did you feel like “I wish that they had taught me about this in university!”

I wish they had taught more conflict resolution skills and embedded anti-black and anti-indigenous racism within the course programming with no opt-out.

Understanding the impact on specific groups that society has created allows growth for people to be empathetic but also invoke action oriented change within organizations. An emphasis that change is needed to the status quo should be a universal approach in teaching.

Thinking back to when you were in high school, what made you want to get into this? How does what you are doing match, and differ, from what you thought?

I was a mature student when I returned to York. Probably about 30. I studied Architecture my first go around in community college and worked in the field for about 7 years when I recognized I wanted a change. A change that wanted to incorporate social justice into any work that I was doing.

Any other advice for people thinking of an undergrad environmental degree?

Think broad. Your skills can apply to so many different sectors and create change in ways that are going to benefit future generations.