Cornell University

July 28 2013

"Forward and Upward"

Class of 2013 graduates from NYS AFL-CIO/Cornell Union Leadership Institute

Sally Alvarez, Narbada Chhetri and Gene Carroll ©RachelPhilipsonThe New York State AFL-CIO/Cornell Union Leadership Institute's Class of 2013 graduated Friday from the year-long leadership training program.

The graduates were joined by the institute's Class of 2014, with which they had just completed a week-long seminar titled "Labor in the 21st Century: New Challenges, New Models, New Hope."

The seminar was held in King-Shaw Hall, which houses the ILR Conference Center.

Union Leadership Institute co-directors and Cornell faculty Sally Alvarez and Gene Carroll introduced the graduation speaker, Janella Hinds, a Class of 2003 graduate.

Hinds is secretary-treasurer of the New York City Central Labor Council and vice president of the United Federation of Teachers.

Her advice to the new graduates: "This institute has prepared you for this time. But, serious times demand serious leadership … After you've gone through this institute, you have a dual responsibility -- to lead your individual union, while also strengthening the labor movement and taking it forward and upward."

©RachelPhilipsonThe class graduation speaker was Brendan Griffith of Ironworkers Local 40. He is chief of staff of the New York City Central Labor Council. Griffith was elected to give the commencement speech by his classmates.

"This is about all workers standing together and fighting for the same thing: justice for working people, whether or not they carry a union card," Griffith said.

"People think that apathy is the cause of all our problems … But I think apathy is the effect and the result of our problems. And I think apathy has a cure; and that's education, and inspiration."

"It's up to us to inspire our members, our friends our family… that happens with tough, one-on-one conversations. That's what it takes to inspire. We're going to grow this labor movement one heart, one mind and one person at a time," he said.

For the new class, the Ithaca-based seminar marked the beginning of the one-year program, which includes fieldwork and mentoring, and seminars in New York City, Rye, Albany and Ithaca.

Seminars are taught by union and community leaders, as well as by Cornell Worker Institute faculty.

The Union Leadership Institute’s graduating Class of 2013 is comprised of 28 men and women; the Class of 2014 numbers 34. Featured speakers last week included:

  • Jeff Grabelsky, associate director of The Worker Institute at Cornell
  • ILR Assistant Professor Veronica Martinez-Matsuda
  • Tyrek Lee, a vice president of 1199/SEIU United Health Care Workers East and a Class of 2011 graduate of the Union Leadership Institute
  • Deborah Axt of Make the Road by Walking, an immigrant rights group
  • Ken McNamara, president of Local 1037 of the Communication Workers of America
  • E. Tammy Kim, labor attorney and journalist, and a Ms. Foundation fellow.

Since its launch in 2001, more than 300 men and women have graduated from Cornell's Union Leadership Institute, and many have assumed top leadership roles in the labor movement around the nation.