Zach Cunningham, MILR ‘15

Zach Cunningham, MILR ‘15

On May 28th and 29th, I had the opportunity to attend the Labor and Employment Relations Association’s (LERA) Annual Meeting in Pittsburgh.  I went to the Steel City as a graduate student representative for the Worker Institute, and it was great to catch up with several colleagues and take in some of the latest scholarship from my field of study. 

But the conference also took on an added importance for me.  Last month I completed my studies at the ILR School, and I will soon be moving to Albany, New York, to begin a career in the labor movement.  Although I will be transitioning out of academia, this conference showed me that there is still a place for me in LERA as I enter the workforce.

The first session I attended was titled “Unions Do HR Too: Innovative Human Resource Policies and Practices in American Unions.”  The panel started with Penn State’s Paul Clark and Cornell’s Lois Gray presenting their findings on human resource practices in the American labor movement.  Their research was fascinating, but the conversation benefitted greatly from having HR professionals from the United Steelworkers and the AFL-CIO present.  These practitioners were able to comment on Clark’s and Gray’s survey-based research and push the conversation towards applicability in the field. 

The panel on union HR practices effectively mixed academic research and real-world anecdotes, and I left with the impression that the conference could help break down the silos that often exist between these two worlds.  The other sessions I attended only reinforced this initial viewpoint.  Whether panels covered the role of private equity in the workplace, labor-management partnerships at General Motors, or anything in between, it seemed clear that LERA’s organizers were intent on creating a platform for meaningful, cross-sector exchange.  This was my most important takeaway from the conference.

While I am sad to part ways with Cornell and the Worker Institute, I now feel as if LERA can serve as a bridge between my former life in the university and my new career in the world of labor relations.  After moving to Albany, I hope to become involved in the Capital Region’s LERA chapter and continue to have the conversations that started last month in Pittsburgh.