In recognition of a lifetime commitment to social justice and the labor movement, the university presented [AFL-CIO](https://www.aflcio.org/) President John Sweeney with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree Thursday evening.
Addressing an audience in Gaston Hall, Sweeney spoke about his life’s work and the effect of his Catholic upbringing on his values. The ceremony came one week after the death of his fellow Irish-American liberal leader, Sen. Edward Kennedy, whose public leadership Sweeney praised during his speech.
In a press release, [University President John J. DeGioia praised Sweeney and explained the university’s reasons for honoring him](https://president.georgetown.edu/sections/speeches/78434.html).
“John Sweeney is very much a man for others and we are pleased to recognize him for this reason, as well as for his extraordinary contributions to the labor movement and for his unwavering commitment to social justice – causes which this community has always championed,” DeGioia said.
Sweeney has spent the last 14 years as president of the AFL-CIO, the largest federation of labor unions in the United States. Sweeney first worked for the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, and prior to his employment at the AFL-CIO, he served as president for 15 years of the Service Employees International Union, where he increased membership by 75 percent.
“To have a formal degree put upon a labor leader . it has a recognition that’s universal, that’s universally recognized,” said Greg Guthrie, a union and labor activist who attended.
The presentation of the degree came just before the launch of a new Georgetown initative, the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor. The Kalmanovitz Initiative will work to explore different approaches to work relations and to join members of the academic and surrounding communities to bring about greater justice for labor.
Jared Watkins (COL ’11), a member of the Georgetown Solidarity Committee who attended the ceremony, was particularly excited about the new initiative and saw the degree for Sweeney as a good sign.
“It’s exciting to see Georgetown officially confer honors on a labor leader,” Watkins said. There is still more to be done for labor at Georgetown, however, Watkins added.
“It’s the greatest idea,” Dieter Dettke, an adjunct professor at the Center for German and European Studies, said of Sweeney’s honorary degree. “Georgetown needs to do a little catch-up on labor. Labor leaders need a level of recognition.”
For newer members of the Georgetown academic community, Sweeney’s degree represents the university’s commitment to social justice.
“I wasn’t quite certain about [the university’s] general stance on labor,” William Smedley (GRD ’11) said. “It was good to see that Georgetown does stand behind labor and reform.”
Sweeney will retire from his position as president of the AFL-CIO in two weeks, according to The Washington Post. He was born in the Bronx in 1934 and attended the Catholic Cardinal Hayes High School. He graduated from Iona College with a degree in economics and later from Xavier Labor School, according to a university press release.”