AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler joined SEIU President Mary Kay Henry for a conversation with Politico's Anna Palmer on the newest edition of the Women Rule podcast. Shuler discussed the surging wave of collective action, the state of the labor movement and her groundbreaking path to becoming the highest-ranking woman in the history of the AFL-CIO. Listen to the episode here, and check out some of Shuler's highlights below.
On the future of the labor movement:
"I think we're at a moment. Yes, people want to write the labor movement's obituary. But, with the rise in collective action that we've been seeing, I think it's signaling something: that people want to come together. They want to fight back. Unions are the best way to do that....The bottom line is that we make change when we speak up together....The labor movement's needed now more than ever, and I think it's an opportunity for collective action and collective voice to grow."
On Brett Kavanaugh:
"We're working with allies and partner organizations to say enough is enough. We can not let this court continue to swing to the extreme right. It's out of step with what America believes. We're seeing this moment of collective action, where people are starting to rise up....We're going to continue to organize workers, focus on the grassroots, focus on our communities. And we think that we can put up a fight like you've never seen, because that's what we do best in the labor movement."
On getting involved in the labor movement:
"I worked at Portland General Electric, the same utility that my dad worked at and my mom worked at, through summers in college. So all of that came together when the clerical workers decided to try to organize at PGE. I was thinking, I know these women. I want to be a part of this. And the local union needed organizers. And it was an all-male local. And so, they said, hey, we could use somebody like you. And that was kind of how my activism was born."
On being the only woman in the room:
"I was the only woman on staff at the local, and we didn't have many women members. And, yes, you did find yourself kind of in a lonely place, most often. But I think it really did bring a different perspective, often, to the conversations....People talk about women's leadership style being very different. More collaborative. More listening takes place, and you can actually sometimes de-escalate situations when there's a lot of testosterone in a room, so I did find myself often playing that role."
On building the next generation of labor leadership:
"I've been thinking a lot about that, because often we emulate the mentors or the leaders we study under, and I see it in our next generation. Next Up is our young worker program, and a lot of the young men, for example, who are studying under male leaders tend to start to morph into that leadership style if you're not raising awareness and, as Mary Kay said, fighting these systems and deep cultural traditions that we've had. I focused a lot of attention and energy around the next generation of leadership. How do we cast our net and open our doors as wide as ever, and especially for young women?"
On union members running for office:
"The AFL-CIO has really prioritized union members being primed and ready to go to take on this moment, because there's something in the air. People are ready to rise up, and there's a moment of collective action unlike we've seen....So, how do we capitalize on that? And how do we make the change that we need with policies and our economy? Well, it's to elect union members to office. They're the perfect candidates because they have a lived experience that they can bring to the table. Especially women, we're seeing in bigger numbers than ever before running for all levels of government."
On combating sexual harassment:
"Most women have dealt with some form of sexual harassment throughout their careers. And the AFL-CIO takes it incredibly seriously. And we've been actually out fighting against sexual harassment in the workplace—sexual assault in the workplace—since our inception, because, through collective bargaining, that's where you'll find language in your contracts for a process in how to remedy when things go wrong—how to have some form of enforcement if the bosses aren't actually coming to your assistance. The AFL-CIO, both as an institution and how we run our own organization, as well as how we're leading in the workplace through our individual union affiliates, has been on record opposing this issue forever. But I think the key here is cultural change. And this is a moment where women are starting to feel safer coming forward because we're all standing up together. And collective action, as I said, is the key."
On defeating 'right to work' in Missouri:
"The vote in Missouri was nothing short of inspiring....The labor movement was more unified than I'd ever seen it. It was laser-focused on defeating the initiative. So it brought people together in a way that I haven't seen in a long time. And secondly, the way the community rallied around the labor movement, because they realized that if 'right to work' were to pass in Missouri, wages would go down for everyone. So to see folks in the small business community responding—working people who don't have a union know that this is going to impact them, too. That's why I think you saw the big number—the big defeat—because everyone knew exactly what was going to happen in that state. Wages would go down. Safety protections would go down. Opportunities and job growth would be sacrificed."