CSI Alumni Spotlight: Laurie Ann Atienza '11

Mon, 08/10/2020

School of Industrial and Labor Relations

Major: Industrial and Labor Relations

Minor: Inequality Studies

Activities: Cornell Filipino Association, ILR Women's Caucus, Willard Straight Student Union Board


What is your current position, organization, and responsibilities?

I am currently a Labor Economist with the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), which is one of the largest labor unions representing public employees in the United States. I work in AFSCME’s Research and Collective Bargaining Services Department and my primary responsibility is to provide our affiliates with research and financial analysis for contract negotiations. Each labor economist in my department has a specialized focus and sector and mine are housing, primarily public housing, and nursing. I am responsible for tracking and understanding policies that affect the housing and nursing sectors, especially their impact on AFSCME’s members.

How has your career/work intersected with topics of inequalities?

My career path has focused on addressing structural inequality and pursuing economic justice as a member of the labor movement, both as a union member and union staff. We have seen decades of wage stagnation in the U.S. leading to vast income inequality and a decline of the middle class. Studies have shown that labor unions are essential to addressing wage inequality across race and genders and setting labor standards across industries. My career in the labor movement has focused on empowering workers across the country to demand fair wages and benefits and a safe, decent workplace by forming and bolstering unions in their workplaces.

How did the Minor prepare you for your post-Cornell life?

The Minor in Inequality Studies provided me the tools to navigate a diverse and complex world. I was prepared to recognize the disparate impact of certain actions and policies on vulnerable communities. I was also prepared to be more proactive in addressing injustices in my own community, most recently working to address housing affordability in D.C. by organizing and leading a tenant association in my rent-controlled apartment building and joining D.C.'s citywide tenant’s union.

What advice would you offer current students?

I would advise current students to take classes that pique their interest and engage in a variety of on-campus and off-campus activities because now is an ideal time to learn what moves you and motivates you. Lastly, I would like students to never forget that all labor has dignity and that we are more powerful together than we are alone.

How have your studies in inequality informed or influenced your understanding of the current Covid-19 pandemic?

The current coronavirus pandemic has reminded me of the pervasiveness and perniciousness of structural inequalities in our society, which I learned during my studies in inequality. In the United States, those most vulnerable before the pandemic—communities of color, low-income families, low-wage workers, and the undocumented—are also those most affected by the pandemic. Additionally, my studies in inequality informed me that our society has the means to address the effects of the pandemic but those means have been deliberately diminished through deregulation and de-funding. We need stronger labor laws to empower and protect workers, especially those in essential industries. We need greater investment in social programs for food, housing, health insurance, employment, education, retirement, etc. We need our elected leaders to commit to serving the interests of working people, not corporations, and to meet the needs of our population by increasing taxes on the wealthy.

Laurie Ann Atienza '11