Mario Cilento, president of the state AFL-CIO,
with NYSUT Vice President Kathleen Donahue.
(Photo by El-Wise Noisette)
Good leaders need to listen well; adapt to changing times; and have a clear vision of “where you’re going to go moving forward.” That is how Mario Cilento, president of the state AFL-CIO, describes his vision of union leadership, a perspective honed by his 13 months at the helm of the state labor federation.
It also helps to be able to find common ground with individuals from all walks of life.
“What we’ve tried to do in this state is join with other groups that have our shared concerns, so it’s not just the labor movement on an issue, but a broad coalition,” Cilento said.
Cilento spoke about leadership to a receptive audience of NYSUT activists gathered for a mid-winter meeting of NYSUT’s Leadership Institute, which offers training and support to emerging leaders on how to build participation within their local unions and to grow participation in the labor movement.
Cilento’s approach to leadership and coalition-building bore fruit when the state and national AFL-CIO, along with NYSUT and its national affiliates, joined forces with elected and business leaders to press Washington for vitally needed Hurricane Sandy aid.
“It took much too long,” Cilento said of the delays in Congress, “but it worked. We got that money for the people who were suffering.”
That kind of activism, he said, underscores a cardinal strength of the labor movement: “The things we fight for every day are the things that improve the lives of all working men and women.”
Cilento told the NYSUT activists that “one of the things we have to be able to do as a movement is to adapt to changing times … our enemies don’t just want to beat us, they want to eliminate us.”
The state AFL-CIO president paid tribute to the importance of educators in his own life, reciting from memory the names of each teacher who inspired him as he progressed through the grades. He praised the NYSUT activists for their work on behalf of members and for their solidarity with the greater union movement.
“NYSUT has always been the innovative leader for the entire (state labor) movement,” Cilento said, noting NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi’s active leadership in support of labor causes. “You’re there, and you set a tone for everyone else as the largest affiliate in the state AFL-CIO.”
NYSUT Vice President Kathleen Donahue, who introduced Cilento and who oversees the Leadership Institute, also paid tribute to the solidarity between NYSUT and the state AFL-CIO, and the continued activism of the labor movement in helping progressive candidates win elections.
During a question-and-answer period, Cilento urged NYSUT members to stay active in their own union’s endorsement process, noting that NYSUT has a respected voice in the AFL-CIO: “The point of view of NYSUT is heard loud and clear.”