A Special Interview with Heather Slavkin Corzo, New Director of the AFL-CIO Office of Investment

Heather Slavkin Corzo has been named the Director of the AFL-CIO Office of Investment, the department which gives workers a voice in capital markets by leading corporate governance shareholder initiatives and advocating legislative and regulatory reform.

In her previous role as Senior Legal and Policy Advisor for the Office of Investment, Corzo advocated for Wall Street reform in response to the 2008 financial crisis.

Corzo received her Juris Doctor from the Boston University School of Law in 2005 and was admitted to the Massachusetts Bar in the same year. She was also admitted to the Washington, D.C. Bar.

Heather, tell us about how you first got involved in the labor movement.

First, I want to thank the Fund for the opportunity to share my views here. I am really excited about the opportunity to lead the Office of Investment and elevate the voices of working people on important matters related to the capital markets.

How I ended up in the labor movement is an interesting story. I went to law school hoping to use what I learned to become an activist and make the world more “fair” – I literally wrote my law school admissions essay about fairness. As graduation approached, however, I realized that I needed to find a well-paying job so that I could afford to pay down the mountain of student debt I had taken on to finance my education. So, I landed in the mutual fund industry.

After a short time, I realized that I was never going to be happy there. I left and went to work for a progressive organization promoting Democratic congressional candidates during the 2006 mid-term elections. Someone I met through that work introduced me to the folks at the AFL-CIO, and in January 2007 I began working as a researcher in the Office of Investment.

What makes AFL-CIO endorsed programs like the AFL-CIO Equity Index Fund so important?

Picking how to invest our retirement savings is a daunting task. We all want good returns, which means we need investments that perform well and charge low fees. At the same time, we shouldn’t have to sacrifice our values for financial returns. Because of the AFL-CIO Equity Index Fund and other AFL-CIO endorsed programs we don’t have to. The Fund, for example, votes in line with the AFL-CIO Proxy Voting Guidelines 100 percent of the time. This means that investors don’t have to worry that their shares are being used to promote management policies to award CEOs excessive pay or support entrenched boards.

What can unions expect to see from the AFL-CIO Office of Investment in the near future?

The AFL-CIO Office of Investment has been doing a lot of work taking on companies where we have concerns about human rights violations and excessive executive compensation. At first these may seem like completely separate issues but really they’re two sides of the same coin – when a company is spending too much paying the people at the very top it ends up squeezing the workers and this can often result in abuses. We will be turning up the volume on that work.

We are also in the process of developing new campaigns, which I’m excited to tell you about in the coming months. So, stay tuned for that…

More and more unions now understand the importance of the concept of “investing in ourselves” and using pension dollars to advance our shared values. Why do you think the growth is happening, and what does the term “investing in ourselves” mean to you?

I think that the 2008 financial crisis and its aftermath served as a wake-up call to a lot of working people. Our faith in financial institutions and traditional investment funds was severely shaken, and rightfully so. And then, we watched as the stock market began to rebound and the top 1 percent just kept getting richer while the rest of us are still struggling to stay afloat.

In order for our economy to grow in a way that benefits working people, we need to invest in companies that hire American workers and behave like responsible members of society. That’s what “investing in ourselves” means to me – investing in the future of the American worker.

Courtesy of the AFL-CIO Equity Index Fund, July 2014 Newsletter

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