Rachel Swanteson-Franz, a rising 2L at The University of New Mexico School of Law, was named a 2024 Peggy Browning Fellow and will spend the summer working at the New Mexico Center for Law and Poverty.

Rachel Swanteson-Franz

The Peggy Browning Fund helps law students gain experience in workplace justice advocacy by providing fellows with stipends for 10 weeks of employment with labor-related mentor organizations. Swanteson-Franz is one of 117 law students from around the country selected from a pool of nearly 4,000 applicants for this year’s program.

“Labor needs lawyers and we are inspired by the passion and dedication this year’s Fellows bring to the movement. These Fellows are distinguished students who have not only excelled in law school but who have also demonstrated their commitment to workers’ rights through their previous educational, organizing, work, volunteer, and personal experiences,” read a statement from the Peggy Browning Fund.

Swanteson-Franz spent four years working in the environmental field, both in research and advocacy, before choosing to attend law school. Working in the environmental justice space and learning more about the labor movement led her to see deep connection between the issues. She cited the 2010 Deepwater Horizon incident, which killed 11 oil rig crew members and led to the largest marine oil spill in history, as an example of how better labor protections could have stopped this catastrophe.

“You see it locally with oil and gas workers or miners having a lot of direct health impacts from their working conditions and then the communities near the work sites have really negative impacts from poor air quality to water quality, which is also directly contributing to environmental degradation, biodiversity loss and climate change,” she said. “If companies generally had to comply with much more rigorous worker safety standards, they couldn’t exploit the workers and thereby exploit the environment at the same time.”

She also cited her interest in ensuring labor rights are prioritized in the transition to renewable energy and that new jobs in the sector be well-paid, treat people well and have strong safety regulations.

Swanteson-Franz plans to pursue the Natural Resources and Environmental Law Certificate and will serve as the vice president of the Association of Public Interest Law at UNM next year.