Jorge Ramirez, Class of 1997
President of the Chicago Federation of Labor
The son of Mexican immigrants, Jorge Ramirez was elected President of the Chicago Federation of Labor (CFL) in 2010. Prior to joining the CFL in 2006, he was elected Vice President and served as Executive Director of Local 1546 of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, representing nearly 30,000 members in Chicago and throughout Illinois. Since 2008, Ramirez has served on the Cook County Health and Hospitals System Board of Directors as Vice-Chairman and is currently a member of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Labor Advisory Committee; the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago’s Advisory Council on Agriculture, Small Business and Labor; the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau Board of Directors; the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority Advisory Council and the City of Chicago Labor Management Cooperative Committee. He also serves as co-chairman of the Chicago Manufacturing Renaissance Council and is a member of the National Manufacturing Renaissance Campaign design team, the Mercy Home for Boys and Girls Board of Regents, the United Way of Metropolitan Chicago Board of Directors, the ARISE Chicago Board of Directors and the Chicago Jobs with Justice Executive Board.
What were you like as a law student?
I was very determined, but I was very busy because of working and going to school at the time. I really saw my legal education as a way to help not just the job I had at the time, but the people I was seeking to represent and organize. It was key for me to be able to assist them in a more robust way.
What’s your biggest goal?
To make sure that justice in the workplace is achieved. Some of that’s achieved through democracy. To make sure that we expand and grow the middle class. It’s the smallest it’s ever been. We need to shrink the lower class and give those people a pathway to the middle class.
What has been your greatest professional achievement?
There were about 50 workers at a racetrack here in town, who were mostly immigrants. They’d been working for 20-30 years, still making minimum wage with no benefits. We were able to organize these folks and get them a contract which nearly tripled their salary and gave them health insurance and a pension for the first time in their lives. It was a great moment.
How did your legal education prepare you for your present success?
It teaches you to take massive amounts of information, distill it and figure out what’s important. You use that skill a lot in the real world, particularly in the business I’m in. It teaches you to do strategize around it, to argue a point to your benefit, while understanding the arguments on the other side.
What advice would you give to young attorneys just starting out today?
In the field that you’ve chosen, make sure that you tell it like it is. Don’t take liberties that aren’t accurate or true. If it’s bad news, deliver it yourself. Put to use everything that you’ve learned for the betterment of society and you’ll sleep well at night.