“Great Preparation”

Australia to ILR to Washington: a graduate’s path
Monday, March 7, 2016

Andrew Crook MILR ’16 is a senior communications adviser at the American Federation of Teachers, where he works with ILR alumna Randi Weingarten ’80 to tailor the 1.6 million-member union's public messaging and media relations outreach.

"This was a great opportunity to get involved in the cut and thrust of national issues important to our members at a crucial juncture for the labor movement," Crook said in an interview.

As an undergraduate, he was involved with the student union at the University of Melbourne, did an internship with the National Union of Workers in Australia and worked as a political journalist for six years covering labor issues.

Crook’s interest in unions and labor relations led him to the MILR program.

“I was aware of the caliber of the ILR faculty through my previous academic work on trade union organizing strategy – I guess you could say I was a bit of a faculty fanboy.”

“I also knew a former ILR visiting fellow, Amanda Tattersall, through my reporting work in Australia. I sat down with Amanda for a coffee one morning in Sydney and she confirmed my suspicions that ILR was a great place to study.”

In between degrees, Crook helped organize and negotiate one of Australia’s first collective bargaining agreements for digital journalists.

He credits his time in a newsroom with giving him “the best insight into how the labor movement interacted with labor politics.”

Since joining the teachers’ organization, based in Washington, D.C., Crook has been shaping messaging around the Friedrichs and Vergara cases, and doing political work in anticipation of the November election.

Reflecting on his time at Cornell, he said, "My research at the Worker Institute and ILR -- especially courses like public sector collective bargaining and labor law -- served as a great preparation for the role.”

Crook remains optimistic about the future of labor unions in America, citing Fight for 15 and the Making Change at Walmart campaigns.

“Reports of the death of U.S. labor have been greatly exaggerated,” said Crook, who helped organize Cornell Graduate Students United, the Cornell graduate employee union affiliated nationally with the teachers’ federation.  

“One of the biggest developments has been the surge in graduate student and adjunct organizing that is re-energizing campuses across the country.  Even inside traditional organizing channels, workers are doing the hard work of collecting cards, filing for elections and winning.”

To students still at Cornell, Crook cautions against focusing solely on academics and vocational concerns.  

“My advice would be to get heavily involved in activism on campus – whether that’s through COLA, the student union or penning swinging op-eds in the Sun.’”

“There tends to be a pretty heavy focus on gaining employment after graduation, but if you have your priorities right, the best opportunities will come knocking.”