Shuler in Ms. Magazine: What’s on the Horizon for Working Women?

This was op-ed was originally published on Ms. Magazine.

One year ago this week, I was officially elected as the first woman to lead the AFL-CIO, America’s largest labor federation—consisting of 12.5 million workers across 60 unions. It’s been the honor of a lifetime to be part of the changing labor movement that is increasingly led by women, people of color, LGBTQ+ people, immigrants and others who have gone underrepresented for too long.

But the truth is, the real leaders are the women and workers on the ground who are leading organizing drives and picket lines across America, such as nurses in New York, teachers in Minnesota, retail workers at REI, warehouse workers at Amazon, or baristas at Starbucks. The past 12 months have been nothing short of historic in how these workers and many more have risen up and seized our collective power (with the Federation marching and fighting alongside them).

As working people continue to push for more, I’ll be focused over the next 12 months on how we can continue to build a bold, inclusive and modern movement, empower working women through unions and unleash a wave of grassroots organizing that will put all working people on the path to a better life.

Women Will Continue Leading the Labor Movement Forward

Women have always played an instrumental role in shaping the values of the labor movement but now, as we lead some of the most inspiring organizing campaigns in decades, it is clear that gender equity is essential to the future of our movement. 

Women comprise half of the country’s workforce and have increasingly become the primary breadwinners in many households. Yet, we earn 82 cents for every dollar earned by men, and that number is much lower for women of color. The U.S. also currently lags far behind other nations in terms of women’s labor force participation. 

Strong unions are the solution to unlocking women’s full economic potential. The AFL-CIO is the largest organization of working women in the country. Women covered by a union contract earn 22 percent more than non-union women and we can bargain for life-supporting policies like child care and paid family leave.

As the Biden administration looks to create millions of union jobs and apprenticeships through unprecedented Federal investments in infrastructure, manufacturing and clean energy, we are working hard to ensure women have greater access to these life-changing opportunities. We’re also deeply committed to growing the leadership of union women and leveraging policies that uplift women workers.

Grassroots Organizing Is How We Will Win 

We also have to keep building from the ground up. Companies like Amazon, Starbucks, Delta Airlines, Hello Fresh, Google and others spent more than $400 million on consultants to discourage unions—and hundreds of millions more on misinformation campaigns, anti-union lobbying in Congress, and other measures to stifle workers who want to form and join unions.

So how do we win? It has to start on the ground. Establishing one-on-one relationships is more powerful than big money. Using new and creative tactics, we can organize across industries to strengthen our collective power. That’s why last year the AFL-CIO launched the Center for Transformational Organizing, the labor movement’s hub for implementing and scaling powerful campaigns to increase union density and unleash unprecedented worker power. 

It’s about training the next generation of organizers, and taking successful lessons from union actions in one industry and applying them across new and emerging ones.

A perfect example is the recent win at the electric bus manufacturer Blue Bird in Georgia, where workers’ right to form a union is severely restricted. Powerful women organizers like Wilhelmenia Hardy engaged former employees to make the case for why a union would improve their workplace and help them build a better life.

It’s clear that this kind of organizing works. Workers filing for union elections is at an all-time high—which shows that they see collective action as the pathway to a better life.

We Are All In This Together

The way we’ll win is by forging a true movement that reaches across every workplace and every sector of our economy and public service. The labor movement was founded on the belief that no matter our job, background, race, religion, gender or sexual orientation, we are all part of the same struggle for dignity and respect. We are seeing an incredible transformation in organized labor—more women, more immigrants, more people of color are joining our movement, and as a result, we’re stronger than ever. 

When the Writers Guild of America went on strike a few weeks ago, they didn’t stand alone. Pro-athletes, teachers, flight attendants, hospitality workers, actors, directors and musicians almost immediately showed their support. This incredible showing of support from all across the labor movement is what modern solidarity looks like.

Here is the best part: Everyone can get involved. This is a movement for all women and all working people—for anyone who wants their basic dignity and respect at work and throughout their lives. My challenge to every person reading this piece, go to a local rally of working people and support a local strike. If you work in a place that is not unionized, think about whether it may make sense for you and your co-workers.

And always remember, there is a home for you in our movement. We are growing stronger, larger and more powerful than we have been in a long time. And we are ready to win together.