Remarks as prepared for delivery by Fred Redmond, Secretary Treasurer of the AFL-CIO, upon announcement of election results at the 29th AFL-CIO Constitutional Convention
Thank you, Liz.
Let me say how proud I am of you, how proud I am to serve alongside you. And how excited I am to continue our work together.
When we were down in Alabama earlier this year in support of the Warrior Met strikers I overheard one of the mineworkers talking about you. He said, “That woman is union from the hair on the top of her head to the dirt on the bottom of her shoes.”
He was absolutely right. You are union through and through. You are tough, smart and strong. And you are, without a doubt, the right person to lead the labor movement. Thank you.
And to all of you – thank you for believing in me. It has been one of the greatest privileges of my career to serve in this capacity. Your support is truly humbling.
Last week, me and my wife Anna, just celebrated our 47th wedding anniversary. We have been on this journey together, and I am incredibly lucky and incredibly blessed to have you in my life as the matriarch of our family. And I love you more and more every day.
I’m happy to have my family here sharing this moment with me. My daughter Morgan and my son-in-law Mike Morris. My grandson Jordan and his partner Tabbie. And my other grandson Marcus is here too with his fiancè Sonia Warren, my granddaughter Anashia, and a special friend of our family Diana Warren. I also want to give a shout out to Becca Smith. You make a mean chocolate cake. I love you all more than you could possibly know.
I want to give special thanks to my union, the United Steelworkers, and to president Tom Conway for putting my name forward and for your unyielding trust in me. The Steelworkers union has nurtured me and allowed me the opportunity to be a leader in our great union. And I will always be indebted to you and to former president Leo Gerard, who brought me on board.
I also want to thank Sean McGarvey, president of North America’s Building Trades Unions, for seconding my nomination. I am so honored to have his support and the support of the building trades. NABTU is literally changing lives. They have the most comprehensive training in the entire world. Their apprenticeship programs are giving so many people the opportunity to build a solid career. And their commitment to underserved communities is something everybody in the labor movement should be extremely proud of. Thanks again, Sean.
And to my sister Liz Powell, who I have known for many years, thank you for your second, and for your commitment to racial and social justice. The work of the American Postal Workers Union and all the postal unions during the election of 2020 is not recognized enough in our movement. Their commitment to make sure every ballot was delivered and counted – while facing intense resistance from the Postmaster General – it took courage and is a true example of the labor movement’s commitment to democracy.
And I’d like to thank the staff of the AFL-CIO. In particular Marcus Medley, Crystal King and Shari Cannon, our director of accounting and her entire team. And I would like to thank our team in the Secretary-Treasurer’s office – Tiema Perry, Mack Harrell, Jamie Garcia, and especially JP Smith. JP came over with me from the Steelworkers union, and I am very proud to have witnessed his development in the labor movement. He is not only the best executive assistant and chief of staff, but he is also one of my dearest friends. Thank you, JP.
This is an historic election. An historic moment for the labor movement. I know the spotlight is on Liz and me right now, but I need to use this moment to recognize a few of the people upon whose shoulders I stand. People who struggled to gain respect in this movement, but who stuck with it because they realized that the labor movement was the strongest vehicle to improve people’s lives and build a Black middle class.
People like A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin and Bill Lucy. Linda Chavez Thompson and Arlene Holt Baker. They’re labor legends for good reason. They were true pioneers in their commitment to bring the labor movement and the civil rights movement together. And in their unwavering advocacy for Black workers in the workplace AND in our unions. I learned from them that we have to get our own house in order first.
In my own union, this moment would not be possible for me without Leon Lynch, the first African-American Vice President of the Steelworkers.
And people like Oliver Montgomery, who spoke truth to power and challenged my union on issues of racial justice during a time when these issues were not being heard.
Ola Kennedy, the first African-American woman to hold an elected office in one of our large, basic Steel locals. These are people who broke barriers in my union and opened so many doors for me as a trade unionist, and for so many others.
But we all know that once you get through those doors, you need friends and mentors. And in my union, I’ve been lucky to find them in Leo Gerard and Tom Conway, in George Becker and Rich Breen and so many others who took a chance on me.
And in Rich Trumka, whose commitment to racial justice was real and true. And I’m so grateful for his 25 years of friendship, and that he put his faith in me and in my good friend Marc Perrone to lead the 2015 race commission. And then in 2020, he trusted me again to lead our racial justice task force.
He would have been proud of the progress we have made with the task force. And he would have been proud that the delegates of the labor movement he loved so much just elected a woman and an African American as its top officers.
This is progress. Dr. King told us “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” I know that’s true. And I know it’s true because I see all of us, as a movement, working to bend it. Pushing for a better future.
It’s not easy. And there’s no end to it. And it’s work we have to do together – all moving in the same direction.
So where do we go from here? We reach out to meet today’s workforce, which has more women and people of color than ever before, and bring them into the fold so that the movement we love looks like our membership at every level.
And we keep organizing new workers in new and emerging sectors – athletes, tech workers, workers in the clean energy economy – and workers at corporate giants like Amazon, Apple and Starbucks.
And we keep fighting until every worker in this country has the chance to have a good, union job. Everybody in, nobody out. And we’re going to fix our labor laws and make that a reality.
I know what the labor movement does. It brings the marginalized in from the margins. It brings respect to the disrespected.
It lets people come together and collectively bargain for their own future.
And it lets a poor kid from the South Side of Chicago rise up to become the highest ranking African-American officer in the history of the American labor movement.
When you gave me your vote today, you gave me your trust. I will hold onto that trust – be accountable to it – every single day, for you and for every single worker in this country.
Let’s keep pulling together as a family.
Let’s keep bending that arc toward justice.
Let’s win progress for America’s workers for today, for tomorrow and for generations to come.
Solidarity, brothers and sisters.