Liz Shuler Acceptance Speech at the 29th AFL-CIO Constitutional Convention


AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler's remarks as prepared for delivery upon announcement of election results at the 29th AFL-CIO Constitutional Convention.

The U.S. labor movement is the single most powerful and hopeful movement for progress in this country because of you. 

I am grateful to all of you. Thank you for your confidence and thank you for your trust. 

Thank you to my family and friends for being here to celebrate this moment. 

Fred Redmond, we were a team from day one. We led the AFL-CIO through tragedy after Rich passed unexpectedly. You are a giant in our movement and I am honored to be partners with you. 

Thank you to my biggest supporters. Dave, my husband, we are together in everything, every step of the way. I love you. My friends Kim and Bob, who are here from Oregon. The Sunday morning crew. You know who you are and I appreciate the countless hours you dedicated over many months.

My dad, Lance, I love you. And sister, Anna, thank you for always being the Captain to my Toni Tennille – we’re children of the seventies – and a wonderful mom to my amazing nephews Roland and Lance. 

And to the staff of the AFL-CIO, thank you for your hard work and solidarity – this has been a year unlike any other. 

I want to recognize John Sweeney’s legacy.

I wish Rich Trumka were here. But we can feel his impact everywhere. 

I remember talking with Rich about his journey through the labor movement. He always knew that, one day, he was going to be AFL-CIO president. He worked at it, built his expertise and he aspired to sit in that leadership chair.

I traveled a different path to reach this point. 

As many women in our movement do – we find ourselves outside the spotlight, doing the hard work behind the scenes, focusing on making big plans come together to benefit the whole.

Often, we’re leaders because we’re good organizers. I learned that from my mom.  

And from my dad I learned the value of hard work and a union card.

My family’s story is an ordinary part of the greater working-class story.

My dad grew up in a one-room fruit picking shack. He and his four siblings often went hungry. Right after graduating from high school he enlisted in the Marines, and went straight to Vietnam. And when he returned to Oregon, he found a job as a hole digger at Portland General Electric. But it was a power lineman’s apprenticeship that put him on the path to a good union job. 

That changed everything. 

In one generation, our family had a roof over our head and enough to eat. That’s the power of a union. That’s what IBEW 125 meant to my family. 

But my mom and I also worked at Portland General Electric as clerical workers, and we didn’t have a union. That difference showed me that in addition to good pay and benefits, the union also meant dignity, respect, and a voice. 

That’s how I got my start: by having one-on-one conversations with women who were my co-workers about a fair workplace. 

We decided to organize a union. Though we didn’t win that drive, it wasn’t a failure. Because something always changes for the better--relationships, possibilities, the way we define the future. 

The connections we built at that time helped us defeat a corrupt utility later on…many of us remember Enron.

No matter the challenge, when we organize, we rise.

I majored in journalism in college because I wanted to shine a spotlight on injustice. But instead of becoming the next Nina Totenberg, I fought for justice as an organizer for the IBEW. 

And as former IBEW president Ed Hill would later explain it, the west coast local that I came from represented power linemen. And at the time, they were all men. When he hired me, he expected to meet an organizer who was, quote, “A six-foot-four hunk who rode in on a Harley with his hair flapping in the wind.” All I had was the hair. But Ed gave me opportunity after opportunity and elevated a sister into the top ranks of the brotherhood. 

Thank you to Lonnie, my president, Kenny, Travis, Rick Diegel, Sherilyn and my IBEW family for believing in me. I am here because of you and all of my IBEW siblings.

I stand on the shoulders of those who came before me--women whose dedicated leadership in our unions, in our workplaces, have moved all of us forward. 

There are too many to mention of course…but Linda Chavez Thompson and Arlene Holt Baker …. 

My teachers.

My leaders. 

So much more is owed than just saying thank you. 

Together, we will stand up for equal pay, for our autonomy, and to identify as our true selves at work – he, she, and they. 

We are going to organize and rise together to break every ceiling – the ones made of glass…but also those made of steel and silicon.

We will elevate women in our movement; center the people who have been excluded, paid the least but who, nevertheless, step up the most. 

My path and style as a leader are different. They reflect the shift we’re seeing in leadership in all walks of life. Less top down, more inclusive and collaborative. 

Because it's not about getting credit. It’s about results. And results are what the AFL-CIO is organizing to win.  

Make no mistake: This is a defining moment for our movement. 

One million are dead from COVID. Promises for racial justice have gone unmet. Inequality is resounding. The middle class has been hollowed out.

The wealthy concentrated power and profit away from working people. 

The upward mobility that lifted my family has been reversed. 

Millennials and Gen Z are backsliding with high rent, low wages and student debt.

And yet, something is happening.  

We are on the brink of something big. 

This magic. This power. Everyone in the room can feel it. 

We are standing up.  

Working people are rising.

Nurses walked out of hospitals wearing trash bags as makeshift protection against the virus. Then they returned with real PPE and won unions in Maine and in North Carolina. 

19,000 graduate researchers in California stood up and won a union for more equitable, and inclusive universities.

Baristas at Starbucks across the country are reclaiming what it means to be a partner. 

Corporate and retail workers are coming together to organize at Apple. 

Working people are rising and organizing. It is having a domino effect. 

Museum and stadium workers. 

Teachers and students.

Hotel workers and bus drivers.

Capitol Hill staffers. 

And cannabis workers. 

We are seeing breakthrough organizing in big tech…like Alphabet and Activision.

We are rising so strong…that even Microsoft said it will recognize our organizing rights.

Young, black, brown, and AAPI workers are leading us and building collective action.

That’s because the path forward for climate action…racial equity and the movement for Black lives…disability rights…and PRIDE…runs right through the labor movement. 

People are turning to unions as a solution to their problems.

And thanks to the Biden-Harris administration--the most pro-worker administration in history--we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. 

It’s not enough to protect what we have, we’re not just going to recover what we have lost. This is about taking risks to define the future…on our terms.

We are making the jobs of the future union jobs from the start. 

80,000 in offshore wind. 

We are reimagining Appalachia and retiring the Rust Belt label. 

Everyone should know, after the U.S. military, we are the largest job training network in the country.

We are the bridge to high-growth, high-demand careers. 

As industries change, we are the place people can upskill and reskill.

Our apprenticeship programs have been putting people on the path to the middle class for more than 100 years. 

That’s what lifted my family.

I want every working person in this country--women side-lined from the workforce…people of color written out of worker protections for generations…millions of immigrant workers waiting for their pathway to citizenship our formerly incarcerated siblings…the next generation of veterans…everyone should have the life-changing opportunity of a good, union career. 

As technology changes, we’re changing with it. 

We are working to make sure our tax dollars fund American innovation that benefits us. 

Everyone included. No community left behind. American-made industries...American-made supply-chains…all made with good, union jobs.  

We rise. We organize. And through the power of collective bargaining, we transform. 

Over generations, workers, with the power of collective bargaining won higher wages, better benefits.

We can use collective bargaining to meet our modern needs…like preventing employers from collecting data about us…or ending the toxic work culture causing the great resignation. 

And for anyone who needs to hear it, it’s okay, I’ll say it, You are more than your job.

Elon Musk said the problem is Americans don’t want to work. 

The problem is we are exploited at work.

Just look at Amazon.

Where workers have to leave their dignity behind because democracy is missing from the workplace. 

But we know what to do. 

Democracy rises when we organize. 

We are going to amplify the voices of working people…our hopes, struggles, and demands.

One conversation at a time, we will unite around shared values – the dignity of work, a good union job, and respect for each other and our diverse communities. This year we are building more than a “political program” – we are mobilizing for democracy.

We will use our voices on the job and at the ballot box.

Democracy is a practice not just an idea. 

It’s teachers and mineworkers and families on strike lines all around the country.

It’s the strength and resilience of self-determination – just look to the people in Ukraine. 

While the richest men on earth might try to divide us, to colonize space, and treat us like robots…they don’t own our humanity and they don’t own our future. 

A new era for the labor movement starts right here, right now. 

Ten months ago, I asked our Executive Council to bring their boldest ideas to this question: What breakthrough do we need?

While we supported new collective actions – behind the scenes, outside the spotlight – we strategized and analyzed, asked and answered, how? 

Well, we have a visionary way forward. 

Just as the AFL invested to create the CIO for industrial organizing in the 1930s, today, we are launching the Center for Transformational Organizing – the CTO. This is the vehicle that will accelerate and convert the energy of this moment to take our movement into the next century. 

The CTO will bring together the brightest organizers, technologists, and researchers. We will develop, implement and scale powerful campaigns for unprecedented union growth. 

By concentrating resources and coordinating to achieve the biggest wins, the CTO will use the power of the entire U.S. labor movement. That’s 13 million of us in 57 unions in every state, in every zip code, in all industries. 

And here’s the bottom line.

In the next 10 years, we will organize and grow our movement by more than one million working people.

Together. All in. One, single, transformational goal. 

We rise. We organize. It’s what we do.

This is more than a comeback story. 

This is a new story, yet to be told. 

A story we will write, on our terms. 

To be written by every one of us.   

A new era for all working people across this country.   

And generations from now, they’ll tell the story of how we succeeded. Together, in solidarity. 

Let’s get started.

Thank you all so much.