“Education is Critical”

Union leadership institute experience was “profound experience”
Wednesday, February 15, 2017

New York State Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon says that when she wanted to move up into union leadership, she was advised on the importance of acquiring specialized labor and union education.

“I was always taking different personal and professional development classes, but I wanted to know more details about the labor movement to become an effective leader in the sector,” she said.

In 2004, Reardon was nominated by her union and accepted into the NYS AFL-CIO/Cornell Union Leadership Institute, an executive-level training program that prepares New York unionists to more effectively and strategically tackle the tough challenges facing the labor movement.

“The quality of the education through the program was second to none,” Reardon said of the program managed by ILR’s Worker Institute. “The instructors are experts in their field, but also very passionate about the work as many of them came out of labor to teach.”

“For me, their depth of understanding the movement, combined with the education, came from the real world, not an ivory tower.”

Reardon appreciated the pacing of the program over two years, which allowed her and other participants to bring back information and learning experiences to their unions and apply them to the day-to-day challenges they faced.

“It was one of the best things I ever did,” Reardon said. “It opened up labor leadership, the whole movement, and the values it embodies, in a completely new way.”

“It was a very profound experience for me and so empowering to be accepted as a labor leader and to be challenged. I would not have been as effective a leader without ULI training.”

In 2003, Reardon became the president of the New York local of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.

She graduated from the ILR leadership program in 2005 and was elected national president of the entertainment union in 2007. She went on to serve three terms in office, while also serving as national AFL-CIO vice president from 2009 to 2013.

In 2012, as national president, Reardon led the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists through its historic merger with the Screen Actors Guild, serving for a year as co-president of SAG-AFTRA, the newly formed, 165,000-member entertainment industry union.

Reardon became a Worker Institute Fellow in May 2015 and, until her appointment as acting commissioner in October of that year, was involved in the development of a Worker Institute research initiative entitled, “New Formations in the Arts and Entertainment Industry.”

Reflecting on changes and emerging challenges in the world of work and labor relations, Reardon cites the education the Worker Institute offers as critical to helping the labor movement adapt and survive.

“The labor movement is such a place of change as the world of work evolves,” she said. “Education is critical to helping unions guide that change and adapt to change, as labor is crucial to a healthy economy.”