Redmond: The Future We Want to Build Starts in New Jersey

Atlantic City, N.J.

AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Fred Redmond delivered the following remarks as prepared at the 2023 New Jersey AFL-CIO Legislative COPE Conference
in Atlantic City:

Good morning, New Jersey AFL-CIO! It’s great to be here in Atlantic City and it’s great to be with all of you. 

Brother Charlie [Wowkanech], thank you for that kind introduction and for your leadership. And thank you to my sister Laurel [Brennan] for your incredible work.

It is an honor to join you for your 2023 Legislative and COPE Endorsement Conference.

The New Jersey AFL-CIO does such a terrific job advocating for all working people – and engaging with every community.

And we had our work cut out these past few years. One of the more challenging times in our history. I know it’s been tough. 

But being Jersey Strong means rising to meet the challenges head on. And that’s exactly what you did. You held this great state together at a time when New Jersey’s working people needed you most.  

And in doing so, you have shown workers all across this country the meaning of true solidarity. And what we can achieve when we come together and stick together.

You’ve shown what we can achieve when we have leaders who will stand with us and fight alongside us.

Leaders who care about the needs of working people – leaders who stand up to corporate greed — they don’t just magically appear. 

It takes hard work. It takes vision and dedication to elect leaders like Governor Murphy. Legislating a big and complicated state like New Jersey isn’t easy  — there are a lot of competing forces – and Governor Murphy is easily one of the most pro-worker governors in America. 

Leaders like Assemblyman [Wayne] DeAngelo – who you’re honoring tonight for his work in the State Assembly. 

And leaders like Assemblyman [Thomas] Giblin – who as you all know is retiring from the Assembly this year. Brother Tom’s voice will be missed in the halls of Trenton, but I know he will continue to advocate for working people through his union and leadership of the Essex / West Hudson CLC.

Up and down the ballot – at every level of government – this state federation is putting in the work to elect leaders who put working people first. 

So that workers have a seat at the table. Workers having a say in how we build a stronger and more inclusive future.
And that’s what this Legislative/COPE Conference is all about – to talk about that future. 

Because the future we want to build starts right here — a strong political program translates into legislative wins for working people.

Here’s some recent proof: A law requiring highways and bridges contracts to use U.S. iron and steel — which is not only good for the state but for the country.
Immediate unemployment benefits for striking or locked out workers – the first of its kind in the nation was won right here. Rights and labor protections for temporary workers.

These laws help all unionized workers and help level the playing field for high-road business and contractors. 

This is how we create an economy that works for all.

Your political program is the key to these legislative wins.

Electing even more leaders who share our values is how we can keep building on these successes.

Leaders who will keep working people front and center in everything they do.

And who better to fight for working people than union members!

You don’t just mobilize union members to get out the vote – you encourage union members to run for office.

You provide support to union members running for office every step of the way.

Because there’s no one better on our issues than us. And no one fights harder for working people than us.

And the 1000-plus labor candidates you’ve elected to public office in the past two decades is proof.

That’s why we’re here. To build a better and more effective labor movement.

One that fights for workers and a workers first agenda so more people can know the life-changing power of a good union job. 

A movement that stands up for our democracy and strengthens it.

A diverse and inclusive labor movement that builds power through solidarity.

We have an incredible opportunity in front of us. To build a future that works for all of us. To build on the good work we did last year.

Our political ground game was sharp and it was effective. We were able to elect pro-union candidates up and down the ballot across the nation. And we turned away some of the most anti-worker and anti-democratic candidates we have ever seen from taking office.

How were we able to turn the tide?

We used our strengths as organizers and applied those strengths to our political program.

We engaged and listened to our members. We had conversations at worksites. We focused on the issues and the values we share as trade unionists, and we were able to connect with our members.

This is more important now than ever before. People have never been more polarized. And the amount of misinformation and disinformation out there seems to grow every day.

We connected with our members. We earned and built trust, and those conversations drove turnout and made the difference.

I know this approach isn’t easy. But it works. We know how to break through to people — and we may be the only people who can do it.

And when I say we, I mean our state federations and our central labor councils. I mean all of you. You give us the reach and the infrastructure no one else has. We’re the only institution with the network to reach workers where they live and work.

And we might be the only institution in America that can bridge the misinformation divide and find common ground.

We’re taking the long view with this approach – and it’s an approach we’re going to use during even years and odd years. It’s an approach we can use every year here in New Jersey.

Because this program goes beyond politics. It builds out our ground game so we can better mobilize and organize around legislative work in the states, on contract fights and strikes, and beat back attacks on our rights and our democracy.

The best way to counter these threats is through organizing workers. Organizing builds density. It magnifies our voice and influence. And our job is to get more union cards in the hands of workers. To grow our movement. It has to be central to everything we do. All workers. In every industry. In every corner of this great country.

Now look, we all know labor laws in this country favor corporate America – and we need to fix our labor laws so workers who want to form a union can form a union through a fair and free election – without fear of retaliation and intimidation from union-busting consultants.

Despite the odds, workers are standing up and standing together, organizing their workplaces, rejecting unfair contracts, going on strike.

Faculty and staff at Rutgers University walked off the job for a fair contract and so many of you were on the picket in support.

And I know many of you have been supporting the members of the Writers Guild. President Shuler and I joined the picket yesterday.

This strike has captured the nation’s attention. 

America is taking notice how these writers are taking a stand against the greedy corporations that made record profits during the pandemic.

And every day, the American public is finding out that the labor movement is the solution to low wages and unsafe workplaces, to discrimination and growing inequality. 

71 percent of Americans support unions. This kind of enthusiasm is a window of opportunity, and we have to take advantage of it before it closes. 

That’s one of the reasons why we formed the Center for Transformational Organizing. This is designed to be a central place where we can collaborate and innovate, and share resources on cross-movement organizing efforts.

The CTO is where we can bring unions together across industries to organize workers at entire companies, and in emerging sectors like clean energy, which is another huge opportunity for us.

We need to make the most of the investments from the Infrastructure Bill, the I-R-A, and the Chips and Science Act. This is a generational opportunity — millions of new jobs in infrastructure, manufacturing, construction and transportation.

We want every one of these jobs to be a good union job. But we also need to make sure that we are not losing the good union jobs we have today as we build the new economy.

And if we get it right — if we all work together — these investments will impact not only this generation, but generations to come.

We need to keep our eyes on the prize. And we need to keep pushing the White House and the Commerce Department and other oversight agencies to make sure these investments lead to good union jobs throughout the supply chain.

And we need to make sure that the gains of government research and development in the Chips and Science Bill go to support secure, well-paid jobs rather than flowing into the hands of corporate leaders who suppress workers’ bargaining power in order to fill their own pockets.

Too often we’ve seen our tax dollars go into government research and development that is then developed into world-changing technology. But the gains of our investment – the people’s investment – have not been shared broadly.

Our collective investment shouldn’t make inequality worse. It should lead to job creation here in the United States. It should lead to policies that connect those living at the margins to quality training and the chance not just to work, but to build a career through good union jobs.

That’s one of the reasons why we launched the AFL-CIO Technology Institute. It’s going to help us get upstream in the research and development process, so that the ideas and voices of workers are involved in shaping the future of work from day one. Whether that’s through regulating the use of AI or through data protection, or by removing bias from the algorithms that determine who is qualified for a job, or who can take out a loan to purchase a home.

And the Tech Institute is working with the Biden administration to make sure the CHIPS investments result in good union jobs and equitable training pathways. We’re working together to bolster our domestic supply chains, get employers to the table, and make sure employers are signing PLAs and supporting registered apprenticeships.

All of us know the kinds of opportunities a union apprenticeship can offer – how it can be the first step in a life-changing career. But it can only open that door if people know about it. And a lot of folks didn’t realize this path to a good union job was available to them.

That’s one of the reasons we’re partnering with the Chris Gardner Foundation’s Permission to Dream project – to help us connect with the next generation of workers and let them know about this vital and accessible path to economic security.

And how a union job is more than better pay and benefits. It’s about dignity and respect. It’s about taking pride in your work. It’s about being a part of something larger than yourself. 

And it’s about doing the work – no matter how big or small – to tackle some of the largest societal issues.

When President Shuler and I were elected, we made a pledge to grow this movement, bring as many people in as possible. Make it more diverse, more welcoming. Bring people from the margins to the center. To make sure racial and social justice is in everything we do. The Racial Justice Task force is central to our pledge. 

The Task Force is bringing together leaders from communities of color, labor leaders, the LGBTQ+ community and more for critical discussions on national racial and economic justice issues.

Our priorities include making sure that we are advancing racial justice in all of our outreach and programs, that we’re addressing America’s history of racism in the criminal justice system, and opening pathways for young people and people of color to enter leadership positions.

This is part of the work we all need to do – and this work is never done.

And it all starts with you, our state feds and local labor bodies.

You inspire solidarity. You unite our affiliated unions to maximize our power. You build consensus.

You do the hard work of building and maintaining relationships. Of opening lines of communication and having open and honest conversations.

We have to do that. That’s how we can heal a divided nation and protect our democracy.

And driving us toward that future is our state and local bodies.

America’s future truly does depend on you.

Let’s keep moving forward. 

Let’s build that better future. Together, I know we can. 

Because when we’re together, there’s nothing the labor movement can’t do.

Thank you.