“Someone was always looking after me,” says Robert Haynes, ’81, ‘86 as he reflects on his path from a Cambridge housing project to young ironworker to president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO.
Whether it was the clerk at the First National grocery store who gave a seven-year-old Haynes bread and cheese to bring home in exchange for stocking shelves, the family friend who landed him a good job, or the government which helped pay for college, Haynes attributes his success to multiple people and institutions.
Three entities stand out: Boston State College, UMass Boston, and the labor movement.
“Boston State and UMass Boston gave me the education and credentials to advance, and the labor movement gave me the soul to lead,” he says.
Haynes graduated from Boston State College with a bachelor’s degree in business management in 1981. He received his MBA from UMass Boston in 1986.
“There was a tremendous sense of camaraderie; we had a great feeling of ownership [of Boston State and UMass Boston]. It was as if the university was especially made for people like us,” Haynes says.
In October 2011, Haynes retired after 14 years at the helm of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, an umbrella organization for 700 autonomous local unions, representing 400,000 union workers. Some of his accomplishments, he puts in the category of “doing my job,” such as raising the minimum wage three times, and defeating ballot questions decreasing workers’ rights.
Haynes takes more pride in changing the culture of the labor movement by encouraging members to be more community-oriented, cultivating young leadership, and forging connections between public institutions and union members.
Haynes initiated the Massachusetts AFL-CIO Walk to Cure Cancer to engage members; more than $7 million in proceeds from the walk helped lead to the creation of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO Cancer Research Center at UMass Medical School in Worcester. The AFL-CIO’s scholarship programs grew remarkably during his tenure. The organization gives $ 1 million in scholarships annually and recently established an additional $1 million endowment to support the higher education for children of union workers and others in perpetuity.
Haynes says he was devoted to increasing the AFL-CIO’s commitment to education of its future leaders because education has been vital to his personal and professional achievements.
Haynes says UMass Boston’s focus on a real world application of theories gave him the skills to engage productively with audiences ranging from workers and business executives to legislators and community groups.
Now principal of Haynes & Associates, a firm which integrates government relations, public affairs, and strategic business consulting, Haynes applauds today’s UMass Boston students who he says have made a “smart purchase” in public higher education.
He encourages them be persistent and continue onto graduate studies. But more than anything, he encourages students “to throw themselves into the experience of learning—from their professors, yes, but even more so from each other.”