I feel so fortunate to be able to have a career that combines my Jewish values with my commitment to economic and social justice. I began as the first female union-side labor lawyer in Boston. I knew I had the job when I received my interview reimbursement check with the memo line: “girl to be hired.” For so many years I represented and fought for working people, initially as a lawyer for local unions and employees and then as General Counsel for a national union. Seven years ago I entered state government as chief of Attorney General Martha Coakley’s Fair Labor Division and, most recently, as the Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development under Governor Deval Patrick for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. I will shortly move on to a new and exciting opportunity—at Northeastern University as Associate Vice President for Workforce Development and Employer Engagement. There I will focus on employability of college graduates, to help insure that the next generation has meaningful, family sustainable employment as well as a superb education.
How did I take this pathway? I come to it naturally. The answer is embedded in my family background--in its Judaism, its politics and its culture. My father was a student activist in New York City during his younger years and deep into their old age I knew some of his fellow activists. Amidst unprecedented social dislocation and gathering foreign storm clouds they fought for a fairer, more compassionate America. He was also a proud, committed Jew. My mother helped Jewish refugees from Egypt and, later, immigrants from the USSR. She volunteered tirelessly for the National Council of Jewish Women and instilled in her children the ethic to count our blessings and make sure to give back.
We were a fully engaged Jewish household. When we celebrated Passover and Hanukkah, we stressed their lessons of freedom and justice for all. On Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) when we prayed for forgiveness, we included the sins of overweening pride, covetousness and indifference.
I was also a child of the ‘60’s, of that singular era of social, political and cultural revolt in American life, largely fueled by African-Americans of all ages and by the youth of various races and backgrounds. In that milieu I learned my labor history and the importance of unions. I learned “who gave us the weekend.” I learned that you have to struggle to bring about racial, social and economic justice. I learned not long after that, when I appeared in court for my clients, that it was not acceptable to me when judges called me “honey” from the bench.
I married a man who had parallel beliefs and passions, who shared in taking care of our kids and the house so I could pursue my passions. He carried our kids on his shoulders to visit me on the picket lines so they could see what a just struggle is and what their mother was all about.
I know that the Jewish Labor Committee was in Roosevelt’s Democratic coalition and how it contributed to electing President John F. Kennedy. I heard about its effectiveness – comparable or even greater than that of other, larger Jewish organizations – in trying to save Jews from the Nazis. I learned of its longtime relationships with unions and social justice organizations. I learned to respect the JLC and to cherish its existence. I have been a member for decades.
The labor movement is one of the institutions in our society that can look beyond its own self-interest and work for the common good. Here in Massachusetts, I was gratified serve as Labor Secretary to safeguard the place of unions at the table during times of governmental and economic reform. Unions are still built on integrity, community and a willingness to provide a voice for those without one.
How gratifying that my Judaism has provided me with the value system and the platform to pursue a career consistent with those values and beliefs, and to live an honorable life.
Joanne Goldstein is the Former Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development for the State of Massachusetts. A Massachusetts native, she has spent her entire professional career fighting for the interests of working men and women across the Commonwealth and the nation. She is currently working for at Northeastern University as Associate Vice-President of Workforce Development and Employer Engagement in the College of Professional Studies.