Cornell University

November 10 2012

ILR Labor Roundtable

Eighteen speakers connecting students with labor movement

ILRRoundtable_webCharissa Fields, outreach and recruitment coordinator for the United Auto Workers Global Organizing Institute, wants students to understand not only the historic role of unions in advancing the middle class, but also how unions relate to their lives today.

"The labor movement has direct ties to the civil rights movement," she says. "And just as there was a struggle in the past, we're struggling today. We can't continue to hold on to heroes of the past like Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks—we need new leaders."

Fields is one of 18 speakers who will engage students in small group discussions at the 10th annual ILR Labor Roundtable, which runs from 1:15 to 5 p.m. Nov. 16 in the Statler Hotel's Carrier Ballroom.

The program brings together students from Cornell, Tompkins Cortland Community College and Ithaca College, with leading advocates for labor and social justice.

The speakers, who will circulate in 20-minute intervals to speak with eight to 10 students at a time, represent such diverse fields as law, labor journalism, union organizing and nongovernmental organizations.

"We tried to recruit a great diversity of speakers, so that students could see there are many careers that relate to the social justice movement," says Karen Li '15 of the student coordinating committee.

"We have representatives from some of the most exciting campaigns today, involving Walmart warehouse workers, Chicago teachers and New York City car washers."

Four of the speakers are Cornell alumni:

  • Lisa Friedheim-Weis '91, attorney with the National Labor Relations Board, Region 13
  • Iris Packman '06, former researcher with UNITE HERE and current law fellow with the United Food and Commercial Workers
  • Alvin Velazquez A&S '00, assistant general counsel for the Service Employees International Union
  • Dave Wazeter Ph.D.'91, program manager for the Pennsylvania State Education Association

Packman is a former president of the Cornell Organization for Labor Action, known as "COLA." She also helped organize the first ILR Labor Roundtable.

"Attending the Roundtable was important to my career—it gave me the idea to be a researcher," she says.

Packman, whose sister, Addy Davidoff '15, is an ILR sophomore, hopes to acquaint students with "the types of dynamic, comprehensive campaigns we run, and all the ways we're involved in helping make workers' lives better."

"When we started the Labor Roundtable 10 years ago, we only knew that there was no forum within ILR or the university where large numbers of students could have real engagement with the diversity of labor and social justice organizations eager to recruit on our campus," says Professor Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of Labor Education Research.

"But when more than 100 students, mostly freshmen and sophomores, attended year after year, and increasing numbers became more engaged afterward in the university, the community and the world around them—then it became clear how important this event had become."

According to Marcia Harding, assistant director of ILR Career Services, 21 percent of the ILR class of 2011 accepted "social concern" positions in the public service, education, research/policy, nonprofit or labor sectors.  

The Labor Roundtable is coordinated by a student committee led by Li and Casey Sweeney '13, under Bronfenbrenner's direction. It is sponsored by COLA, Cornell Students Against Sweatshops, Asian Pacific Americans for Action, the Office of Academic Diversity Initiatives, the ILR Office of the Dean and the ILR Offices of Career Services and Labor Education Research.

Pre-registration is requested.

In a related program, Fields and three students from the Mississippi Student Justice Alliance will offer training on how students can support the alliance and Nissan workers' attempts to organize. That event will be held from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Nov. 17 in 217 Ives Hall.