Dr. Alethia Jones joined SLU as Distinguished Lecturer in Labor Studies in January 2023 and serves as director of Civic Engagement and Leadership Development at the Murphy Institute. For six years she directed the Education and Leadership Development Department of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, the largest union local in the United States serving 400,000 members in five states and DC. As a member of the union’s Executive Committee, she anchored the strategy development process for the senior leadership team and led collaborations with the political, communications, and research departments to ensure aligned implementation. She led curriculum development and “Train the Trainer” processes that enabled thousands of organizers, officers, and members to lead effective power building workshops.  She oversaw the Bread and Roses partnership with Harry Belafonte (the cultural arts program), developed programs with the 1199/League Training and Education Fund, and coordinated with SEIU’s national initiatives, such as the Rockwood Leadership Program.

She is an expert on transformative leadership development and a certified liberation coach. Her consulting, research, and publications address immigrant political incorporation, urban informal economies, health care worker organizing, intersectional black feminism, and social justice philanthropy. She co-authored an award-winning movement memoir with black feminist icon and co-founder of Combahee River Collective, Barbara Smith (A’int Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around: Forty Years of Movement Building with Barbara Smith).

Alethia is no stranger to SLU—having served as Co-Associate Director of The Murphy Institute from 2000-2001 when she helped launch our Union Semester program and she served on our Advisory Board from 2012-2018. Currently, she is a member of the Board of the SLU Foundation, a consulting editor with the New Labor Forum journal, and an advisor to CUNY’s Leadership for Democracy and Social Justice fellowships. Most recently, she served as director of the global Open Society Fellowship Program at Open Society Foundations, where she supported early and mid-career human rights activists, academics, and nonprofit directors leading change in their sectors. She re-oriented the fellowships to support more grassroots social movements, worker organizing, and “Historic First” leaders from directly impacted communities especially in the Global South. She is currently an Advanced Fellow with Funders for Justice and a former Gourds of Wisdom Fellow with Seventh Generation Fund for Indigenous Peoples (2021-2023).

From 2005-2011, Jones was a faculty member in public administration and policy at the State University of New York at Albany (SUNY). She later taught in Brazil, South Africa, and Vietnam as faculty with the School for International Training. She has held fellowships at MIT, Mount Holyoke College, University of Virginia, and Yale University. She began her career in New York City politics and shaped legislative and policy initiatives focused on immigrant communities. She was active in the New Sanctuary Movement and trained a wide range of union members on immigration.


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