John Valinch, MBA/MPP'19

John Valinch

Taking on dual MBA and MPP degrees is daunting enough for most students. But while John Valinch, MBA/MPP’19, is learning the ins and outs of organizational management and policy analysis, he’s also continuing his work for a hospitality labor union, setting up training centers across the country.

How does he do it? “I like to joke that I don’t sleep,” he says with a laugh. But the opportunity to gain the tools and skills to better serve marginalized workers and immediately put them to use was one he couldn’t pass up.

“I grew up appreciating labor unions because, as a child, I saw how my father’s union protected him when the state began slashing a lot of jobs,” says Valinch, whose father worked as union mason for 30 years, and whose two brothers are now union electricians with Local 103. He grew up just north of Boston in Chelsea, Massachusetts, a working-class community with a large Latino immigrant population.

Valinch was just 16 when he joined Green Space, now GreenRoots, Inc., on a statewide campaign to oppose the building of a diesel power plant next to an elementary school in Chelsea. “It was a crystal-clear way for me to see how a small group of residents can organize, fight, and win against vested industry interests,” he says.

These influences piqued his interest in political science, which he studied as an undergraduate at UMass-Boston. This political lens of analysis led to stints working on a local mayoral campaign, the state government and the MBTA before he met Janice Loux, an Executive Vice President of UNITE HERE, a labor union that represents hotel, food service, casino, and airline workers.

“We realized we saw the world very similarly, and that through the union I’d be able to fix some of the broken things in this world,” Valinch says. He was drawn to UNITE HERE because it was an atypical union in that it centered and served many first-generation immigrants, in contrast to many of the powerful, visible unions across the country. “We can uplift hundreds of thousands of lives together.”

He initially worked on a private equity research team, digging through financial statements and company data to understand the capital ownership structures of hotel chains, many of which are now owned by global asset management firms. He then pivoted to a more hands-on role, setting up hospitality training centers in Miami and now Detroit. These programs are free to union members and their families, funded through a combination of collective bargaining agreements and grant funds from local and statewide partners.

“How do you take what people need to thrive at work, and turn it into a real deliverable that not only gets them hired, but provides them with security and career-building opportunities? That’s what these joint labor-management partnerships provide,” Valinch says.

While working at UNITE HERE, he realized that he wanted to influence policies to benefit workers more broadly, particularly in job fields or geographic areas without the capacity to organize, as well as build up his management skills. The Heller School, with its social justice focus and dual MBA and MPP degrees, was a natural fit.   

Valinch recognized the opportunity to build community at Heller, becoming an Eli J. & Phyllis N. Segal Citizen Leadership Fellow in 2018, which supported his fellowship advancing the City of Boston’s Employee Ownership Initiative. In Fall 2017, he was also elected Chair of the MPP Student Association.

“I realized that I needed to leverage my skills and advocate for our community,” he says.

As the chair of the MPP Student Association, he’s helped create professional development opportunities and push for curriculum modifications, such as starting an MPP-specific proseminar (weekend single-credit courses on a specific topic) and working towards the development of an environmental justice concentration. He has also prioritized diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives with MPP Student Association Vice Chair Ashley White, in coordination with Maria Madison, associate dean of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Heller. 

Now, as he looks toward graduation in December, he’s excited to take what he’s learned back to the world of organized labor—and beyond.

“I’ve been blessed to not only find influence and insight from my own personal experiences, but also learn to understand and work on the institutional and interconnected roots of those problems, finding strength, love, and resilience in community as we build new futures together,” Valinch says.