"Guardians of Our World"

Weingarten offers advice to students, perspectives on labor movement
Weingarten offers advice to students, perspectives on labor movement
Thursday, October 24, 2013

Cornell is a place where students can learn to dream big, according to Randi Weingarten '80.

President of the American Federation of Teachers, she met with ILR and Cornell students and faculty Tuesday.

She offered an insider's perspective on challenges facing her union and the labor movement.

Weingarten also reminisced about the ILR student group Frontlash, the predecessor of the Cornell Organization for Labor Action, known as "COLA."

"Frontlash was my first experience with activism on a campus, and activism is the middle name of a college campus," Weingarten said in an interview.

"My friends from ILR and I used to sit and have coffee in the (ILR) quad, and talk about how we were going to change the world. There was a sense that you could help make the world a better place with your skills and knowledge," she said.

Before her election as president of the American Federation of Teachers in 2008, Weingarten spent 12 years representing teachers in New York City system as the president of the United Federation of Teachers, AFT Local 2.

After meeting with faculty to discuss contemporary labor and education issues, Weingarten presented in Lee Adler’s "Public Education and Collective Bargaining" class. She was joined there by Luvelle Brown, superintendent of the Ithaca School District, and Adam Piasecki, president of the Ithaca Teachers Association.

Serving as president of the second-largest education labor union in America places serious demands on Weingarten's time, but she said she always finds room in her schedule to return to Cornell and ILR.

"I love coming back here, and I love being back on the campus. I love talking to students here; I find them incredibly thoughtful, focused, resilient and many in the ILR School have a real activist bent," Weingarten said.

"They will be the guardians of our world going forward."

Named by Washington Life magazine to its 2013 "Power 100" list of influential leaders, Weingarten encouraged students to appreciate campus activist opportunities, not just the academic ones.

"It's a great campus. It's highly challenging for people in terms of the academics, which is important long-term for people's futures. But, activism is as important for the soul as academics for the brain."