Student Q & A: Vanessa Waldref (C ’02, L ’08)
Vanessa Waldref attended Georgetown as an undergraduate and as a law student. She credits Professor McCartin for putting her on her current career path. (Photo: courtesy Vanessa Waldref)
Minors: Justice & Peace Studies; Theology
Hometown: Spokane, WA
What class did you take with Professor McCartin?
20th Century U.S. Labor History
Why did you decide to take a class with Professor McCartin?
I am fascinated by the rich history of the U.S. labor movement, and Professor McCartin’s course was recommended to me by other students who were involved in labor rights activism on Georgetown’s campus.
What what was your favorite part about Professor McCartin's class?
Professor McCartin is an incredible teacher. His passion for the subject of labor history is evident, and his multimedia classroom presentations made the subject come alive. I don’t remember a thing about my social statistics class, but I still talk about watching clips from Modern Times with Charlie Chaplin to depict how industrialization affected assembly line workers. Actually, Professor McCartin’s class came up recently when my husband and I were visiting relatives in Wheeling, W.Va., the hometown of Walter Reuther, a preeminent leader of the U.S. labor movement. As we came upon a statute of Reuther, I was so excited to share with my husband how I had listened in on telephone conversations between President Johnson and Reuther in Professor McCartin’s class, and what I had learned about the often forgotten role of the labor movement during the Civil Rights Movement and the War on Poverty.
How did taking a class with Professor McCartin influence your Georgetown academic career?
Professor McCartin’s influence on my Georgetown academic career extended into my law school education. His research on public sector unions during the Reagan era piqued my interest on the effect of President Reagan’s appointments to the National Labor Relations Board on private sector unions. During law school, I published a law review article that examined the historical background of the National Labor Relation’s Board, and how its unique structure prevented a complete overhaul of labor relations law during Reagan’s presidency, despite his controversial appointments to the Board.
As a law student, Professor McCartin also introduced me to the Labor and Working Class History Association. I worked with this association to publicize the important insights that labor scholars and historians provide on current labor legislation and policy decisions.
Additionally, Professor McCartin’s course encouraged me to research the labor history of my hometown. Built around the Northern Pacific Railroad, Spokane, Wash. has a rich labor history, and was one of the first locations where the International Workers of the World (IWW) held their free speech rallies in the early 1900s. I would love to turn my research into this subject into a book.
Were you involved with any extracurricular activities at Georgetown?
At Georgetown, I was deeply involved with the Georgetown Solidarity Committee, a student organization focused on workers’ rights in our local community and around the world. As President of the Georgetown Solidarity Committee, I worked with an amazing group of fellow students and faculty to advocate for Georgetown to adopt an ethical and legally strong code of conduct to ensure that merchandise bearing the Georgetown logo was made in decent working conditions.
In 1999, it was standard practice for companies like Nike and Reebok to not disclose the locations of their factories, which precluded any assurance that their products were not made in sweatshop conditions. When Georgetown and other universities began to require full public disclosure of such company information, as well as independent verification systems to ensure fair working conditions, a sea change occurred in the international apparel industry that provided consumers much greater transparency.
How are you currently employed?
I am currently a litigation associate at Morrison & Foerster, LLP, where I practice labor and employment law. Next year, I will clerk for a federal judge at the District Court of the District of Columbia.
McCartin posits in his upcoming work that U.S. labor relations changed dramatically for the worse with the 1981 strike of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO): a subject of some contentious debate amongst labor historians.
I'd like to have been on the National Mall by the reflecting pool on August 28, 1963, for the march on Washington.
Kevin Powers is an excellent example of where keen interest and exceptional faculty can take you as a student.