WEC 2021 Awards Ceremony

WEC 2021 Awards Ceremony Journal


Ellie Barbarash
Ellie BarbarashEducation/Health and Safety Coordinator

Ellie Barbarash joined the Public Policy team of Health Professionals and Allied Employees in 2018, hired as both Education Coordinator and Health and Safety Coordinator for a labor union of 22 healthcare locals representing 14,000 nurses, healthcare technicians and professionals working in NJ and parts of Philadelphia. Since March of 2020 her focus has been COVID safety, whether through worker trainings, town halls, or supporting members documenting occupational hazards during pandemic.   Ellie has written and submitted more than 26 sets of OSHA or PEOSH complaints against HPAE employers; each complaint resulting in substantial fines and violations, moving employers to better improve infection control, OSHA compliance and worker safety.  When not working on safety issues, Ellie coordinates and collaborates on curricula revisions and delivery of HPAE’s union leadership training program.  HPAE’s heroic healthcare members have suffered countless illnesses and at least six COVID workplace fatalities to-date.

Before joining HPAE, Ellie developed and managed an OSHA Susan Harwood grant-funded safety training program (‘Health Workers Working Healthy’) for the Philadelphia District 1199C Training & Upgrading Fund, where she developed more than 15 new, participatory classes on occupational safety and delivered training to 6,500 frontline healthcare service workers.

Originally a ‘woman-in-the-trades’ working in steam demolition and excavation for the Port Authority of NY and NJ, Ellie earned her MS degree in Environmental and Occupational Safety from the C.U.N.Y. Hunter School of Health Sciences and holds board certification as a Certified Professional Environmental Auditor (CPEA) with a specialty in occupational safety and health.  Ellie volunteered as an occupational safety First Responder during the 9/11 WTC disaster in 2001 while employed by the NYC utility ConEd.  She has been listening to and providing safety training to frontline essential workers in healthcare, construction, utilities, municipal services and more for three decades; collaboratively documenting, negotiating, and fighting for safer workplaces and worker safety.

Debbie Berkowitz
Debbie BerkowitzWorker Health & Safety Program Director

Debbie Berkowitz, NELP’s Worker Safety and Health program director, joined NELP in 2015, following six years serving as chief of staff and then a senior policy adviser for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) (2009-2015).

Debbie has a long record of achievement in the field of occupational safety and health. Her past positions include health and safety director of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and the health and safety director of the Food and Allied Service Trades Department of the AFL-CIO.

Debbie has led NELP’s efforts to strengthen federal and state worker safety and health protections, as well as state workers’ compensation laws.  ​Over the past year, she was a leader in advocating for State and local ordinances to protect workers from COVID 19, including co authoring a widely used tool kit on model policies. She also  led NELP’s efforts to demand that Federal OSHA step up and protect workers from COVID 19 by issuing and enforcing an Emergency Temporary Standard.  She is the author of widely cited NELP reports on improving worker safety and workers’ compensation systems. Debbie works with national and state partners to develop successful policies and campaigns that improve conditions for vulnerable, low-wage workers in dangerous industries, including temporary workers and those in the meat, poultry, and food industry.

Debbie is the recipient of numerous awards, including the American Public Health Association’s Alice Hamilton Award​and was recently elected as a member of the National Academy of Social Insurance.

Todd Vachon
Todd VachonLEARN Faculty Director

Todd E. Vachon, PhD is Director of the Labor Education Action Research Network (LEARN) and a faculty member in the Department of Labor Studies and Employment Relations at Rutgers University’s School of Management and Labor Relations (SMLR). As the Director of Rutgers LEARN, Todd oversees the University’s labor education programs, including classes and workshops for workers, unions, and other justice-focused organizations and public programming designed to: (a) strengthen the community at work, (b) facilitate its organization on a more democratic basis, and (c) address unjustified inequalities of power and wealth in society. When the COVID pandemic hit in March of 2020, Todd and LEARN partnered with the NJ Work Environment Council and Jersey Renews to host the weekly COVID-19 Update Webinar, “Saving Lives, Protecting Workers.” The series, which ran for 59 weeks, delivered up-to-the-minute critical information to workers, health & safety professionals, and advocates across the state, and created an online community of caring, sharing and repairing that reached thousands of viewers over the course of the Pandemic Year.

Todd earned his PhD in sociology from the University of Connecticut in 2018 where he helped to organize the graduate employee union-UAW Local 6950 and served as the first local president from 2015-2018. Prior to attending graduate school, Todd worked as a union carpenter, completing the UBC apprenticeship program with Local 24 in New London, CT in 2008.  His research, which has been published in a variety of academic journals and edited books, focuses on inequality, labor, climate change, and justice—all topics he cares about deeply. His forthcoming book, co-edited with Tobias Schulze-Cleven is titled Revaluing Work(ers): Toward a Democratic and Sustainable Future and will be available from Cornell University Press in September 2021. His current project is a book about the American labor-climate movement, titled: Clean Air and Good Jobs: U.S. Labor and the Struggle for Climate Justice.

Todd currently serves on the executive council of the Rutgers AAUP-AFT, is Vice President of the Middlesex-Somerset Central Labor Council, and is a fellow with the Center for Innovation in Worker Organization (CIWO) where he contributes to the development of the Bargaining for the Common Good (BCG) program. When he’s not teaching, writing, or organizing, Todd enjoys spending time outdoors, with his family, or collecting vinyl records for his collection.

Protect NJ Workers Coalition
Protect NJ Workers Coalition

The Protect NJ Workers Coalition is a diverse statewide coalition of workers, worker centers, community groups, advocacy organizations, and labor unions, dedicated to expanding worker protections for all New Jersey workers. The Protect NJ Workers Coalition organized and brought workers’ voices to the Governor’s attention, resulting in Executive Order 192 and workplace safety and health training funds.  The Coalition developed and delivered a multi-organizational state-sponsored COVID-19 Awareness and Prevention Program that trained over 80 worker-trainers that spanned across New Jersey delivering workplace and community awareness of COVID-19 training to thousands of frontline workers. Protect NJ Workers Coalition partner organizations continue to provide a space for workers to come together to strategize around enforcing labor standards and safe working conditions.

Wind of the Spirit Training Team
Wind of the Spirit Training Team

Since the birth of our organization in 2000, Occupational Health and Safety has been one of Wind of the Spirit, Immigrant Resource Center pillars. Since 2003, WotS Community Promoters have played a fundamental role in educating, organizing and mobilizing our community.

Community Promoters are workers with a holistic training including Health and Safety, infectious disease, emergency response, know your rights, human and constitutional rights, organizing, peace building, etc., that are ready to be activated when there is an emergency in our community. During the COVID 19 pandemic, following Health and Safety Protocols 30 WotS Community Promoters took to the streets and went door to door in multiple towns in the Morris & Union County area to educate thousands of immigrant families on how to prevent the COVID 19 spread and keep our communities safe. They also filled out census 2020 applications, trained marshals who participated in the BLM marches, delivered food for those who were vulnerable or sick, gave out more than 15,000 face covers and trained hundreds of people about covid 19 prevention and resiliency.


Nikki Baker
Nikki Baker

Nikki is an Instructional Assistant at Dale Avenue School in Paterson and an Educational Support Professional (ESP) chair for the Paterson Education Association (PEA). She is also a New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) Delegate Assembly Member for Passaic County Education Associations (PCEA).

Nikki, who is the mother of three children, has spent much of her career advocating for better conditions for herself and PEA’s members, and connecting her union’s issues to issues of social justice in her community. As ESP Chairperson, Nikki initiated an anti-privatization campaign to save ESP member jobs, through which she organized a Paterson Board of Education Member forum (Anti-Privatization of our Paraeducators). She has also attended and facilitated a number of trainings and train-the-trainers through the National Education Association (NEA), NJEA, PCEA, PEA, and NJ Work Environment Council (WEC), and has facilitated numerous workshops on economic justice developed at WEC and hosted by the PEA Public Relations Committee, using them to connect teachers and school staff to broader issues of social justice. She was awarded PEA ESP of the year (2018-2019).

During the COVID19 pandemic, she has been a vocal advocate for preventing the Paterson School District from resuming classes until every building is safe to return to. She is a founding member of the PCEA Equity Seekers, an organization that seeks to support education professionals in building an environment of social justice for all, and to break down systems of racism and oppression in Passaic County schools.


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WEC 2021 Awards Ceremony Journal