Phela Townsend is a scholar-activist and part of an emerging generation of voices on a mission to transform how we think about—and value—labor and work in our society. At Next100, she examines how today’s workers and labor organizations are using digital tools and technologies to rebuild worker power in the twenty-first century. Her aim is to identify key policy barriers and solutions to building a scalable, inclusive, worker-centered labor movement. While Phela identifies as a labor advocate, she wholeheartedly believes that a strong labor movement, profitable companies, and sustainable “high road” employment models are not mutually exclusive—that, in fact, they can reinforce one another. However, to achieve this, our leaders in business, labor, and government must work together to ensure that our markets and institutions create thriving organizations and communities to support a just and “socially conscious” economy and democracy.
Phela is currently a PhD candidate at the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations. Her research touches several areas, including labor and employment relations in health care; addressing economic inequality through broad-based capital and employee ownership; how emerging technologies are changing work; and new forms of worker voice and representation. Moreover, her work in these areas has deepened her knowledge of rapidly evolving labor and employment issues, especially as they relate to the ways that jobs, labor markets, and employment relationships are changing in the face of interrelated technological, social, economic, and political forces in the country and around the world.
In her work, Phela draws from a rich background of professional and educational experiences in the domain of labor and employment relations. Prior to pursuing a PhD, she held various roles and worked in several industries, including health care, consumer goods, and aerospace manufacturing, in union and nonunion settings, and in both the private and public sector. Phela has a BS in industrial and labor relations from Cornell University and an MBA from the MIT Sloan School of Management. While she was born in Rochester, New York, Phela identities as a native of the “DMV” (D.C.-Maryland-Virginia) area, where she spent most of her childhood and teen years before attending college.