Labor Roundtable

Professionals meet with 140 students
Labor Roundtable
Tuesday, November 23, 2010

All jobs take knowledge and skill, but working in unions and social justice organizations also requires passion, labor movement professionals told students at the Eighth Annual Labor Roundtable.

"If you really want to make a difference, talk to me about a job. If you just want a job, don’t bother contacting me," said Ray Scannell MS '81. Scannell is director of research and education at the Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco Workers and Grain Miller International Union.

Seventeen labor professionals participated in the Nov. 12 event at the Statler Hotel. They included Alan M. Brown '73 and Ed Yoo '06. Brown is assistant general counsel at AFSCME District Council 37 in New York City. Yoo is a researcher for SEIU 1199.  

Professor Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of labor education research at ILR, said the Labor Roundtable “serves to educate students about opportunities in labor organizing and current issues in the labor movement.”

ILR Career Services Director Regina Duffey Moravek said that 23 percent of ILR students in 2009 accepted jobs that can be termed "social concern" positions. The jobs were in sectors such as public service, education, research/policy, non-profit and labor.  

During the roundtable event, speakers went table to table answering questions in small-group discussions of 20 minutes. They urged students to become part of the labor movement. Victoria Samaha, lead organizer of Laborers International Union of North America, said, "This is about passion. This is about respect."

Students who want to work in activism, labor or social justice have passion for change and respect for the labor force and the needs of workers, speakers said.

Brown said workers "want jobs that are meaningful and that allow them to pay the rent. The desire and need for those is the same as it was in the 1930s, the 1960s and forever."

As a result, he and the 140 ILR, Cornell and Ithaca College students who attended had plenty to talk about.

The Labor Roundtable event was organized by student-run groups -- the Cornell Organization for Labor Action (COLA) and Cornell Students Against Sweatshops (CSAS) -- assisted by the ILR Office of Career Services and the ILR Office of Labor Education Research.

The event was coordinated by a student committee led by Debby Cho '12 and Casey Sweeney '13. Committee members included: Alex Bores '13, Gleb Drobkov '13, HJ Lee '12, Rebecca Smith '11, Helen Cabot '14, Susanne Donovan '13, Colin Foley '14, Julia Cabot '14, Andrew Lee '12, Allie Lupico MILR '11 and Jake Walter-Warner '12.

Sweeney said many students were motivated to attend "because they're interested in what changes could be made in policy. One of the effective ways to push social change is through the labor movement."

Marcia Harding, assistant director of the ILR Office of Career Services, said that labor professionals and students agreed that the event was meaningful and worthwhile.

For students, it was an opportunity to learn firsthand what working in a union or for social justice is like, she said, and the labor leaders enjoyed sharing their passion and experience with a new generation.

"There was a great deal of energy and enthusiasm in the room, and each table was abuzz with conversation throughout the event," she said. "Event organizers occasionally had to stand over a table to encourage leaders to end the conversation and move to their next group."