Cornell University

April 11 2011

A Voice for Workers

"I want the world to be a better place," Lo tells Union Days audience

Joann LoJoann Lo could be making more money and working fewer hours at another job.

However, the Yale University graduate has advocated for low-wage workers since 1997.

"I do this because I want the world to be a better place for my kids," Lo told Union Days attendees.

Mother of a toddler and pregnant with her second child, Lo is now national coordinator of the Food Chain Workers Alliance. Based in Los Angeles, it is a coalition of unions and worker centers organizing to improve wages and working conditions.

She encouraged students to consider social justice careers.

"You'll be doing work you believe in and that makes a difference in the world. I don’t think you can ask for anything more," she said Thursday in her keynote address, which capped three days of Union Days events.

When Lo started looking for a job after college graduation, some didn't think she was a good fit for the social justice career she wanted.

Labor organizers "told me I didn't have enough fire in my belly."

By working to improve wages and working conditions for immigrants and others, Lo said she has watched people’s lives change, along with her own.

"I became more outspoken."

Sometimes, she speaks through civil disobedience.

Lo told her Ives Hall audience about stopping traffic at a Los Angeles airport terminal to encourage political action and corporate responsibility on an issue.

She encouraged students and others to consider daily purchases in a new context. "Think about who picked your tomato. Are they treated fairly?"

Millions of food system workers across the world suffer from low wages, she said, and many are trapped in "modern-day slavery."

"Ten That Toil Where One Reposes: Fighting the New American Inequality" was the theme of Union Days 2011. It included a live stream national teach-in, a panel on the fight to save public sector employee collective bargaining, a panel on economic inequality and the Social Justice Career Fair.

Twenty-four organizations participated in the career fair, which drew 120 students from across campus.

Marcia Harding, assistant director of ILR's Office of Career Services, said, "The event drew many students from both within and outside ILR, and many were exposed to a whole new world of careers."

Organizations at the career fair included:

  • 1199 SEIU, United Healthcare Workers East
  • AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees) 
  • AFTRA (American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) 
  • City Year New York 
  • Committee of Interns and Residents/SEIU 
  • Cornell Farmworker Program 
  • Corporate Accountability International 
  • CSEA, Inc. (Civil Service Employees Association)
  • CUSLAR (Committee on US-Latin American Relations)
  • Food Chain Workers Alliance 
  • Green Corps 
  • ILR Extension/Cornell Global Labor Institute 
  • Legal Assistance of Western New York, Inc. 
  • New York Center for Law and Justice 
  • New York State Nurses Association 
  • NYSUT (New York State United Teachers): A Union of Professionals 
  • Peace Corps 
  • Rural Health Services Corps, AmeriCorps 
  • SEIU (Service Employees International Union) International Offices 
  • Teach For America 
  • The Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies
  • UNITE HERE! 
  • Western New York AmeriCorps VISTA 
  • Working Families Party