AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Fred Redmond delivered the following remarks as prepared to the Louisiana AFL-CIO Convention:
Thank you, Louis (Reine), for that warm introduction, and for years of friendship.
And I’d like to thank you and Julie (Cherry) and your entire team for your commitment and dedication to the labor movement and Louisiana’s working families.
I know how hard you’ve worked.
Through one of the most challenging times in our nation’s history.
Through a public health crisis and a terrible economy…
Through hurricanes Laura and Delta and Ida, and an ice storm…
While facing attacks on voting rights and our democracy...
And the systemic racism behind those attacks.
And through all of it, you didn’t stop. You kept going.
You were – and are – a force for working people… for our communities… and for our labor movement.
And I’d like to thank another force for our communities, who is here with us today. Governor Edwards, you have always been a friend to working people. Thank you for helping change the narrative about unions here in Louisiana.
Now, as you all know, in August of last year, our labor movement suffered a huge loss with the untimely death of Rich Trumka. Rich and I were personal friends for over 25 years. And I know he was a friend to many of you too.
Rich loved this labor movement.
And because of the labor movement, he had faith in the future.
And our labor councils and state federations were a great source of his optimism…this incredible network we have to reach and support America’s workers.
And he had faith in Liz Shuler.
Liz is smart, tough and the right person to lead the American labor movement at the right time.
And I am honored to serve alongside her as the secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO.
Rich Trumka liked to say the American labor movement must be the tip of the spear in the fight against racism.
And he was right. There is no better institution in America to lead the charge.
And we need to be the tip of the spear on the huge issues facing our nation today, which are the same issues facing working people today.
Racial, economic and gender justice.
Rights for immigrants and a path to citizenship.
The suppression of our right to vote and our very democracy.
These are dire issues. A couple of weeks ago I was in Alabama with our allies and friends and fellow trade unionists for the Selma to Montgomery March.
It’s the same 54 miles civil rights activists marched in 1965 to bring attention to voter suppression in the South and to get the 1965 Voting Rights Act passed, which it did.
And we returned to that same route because our voting rights have been eroded… and history is repeating itself.
Our votes have been suppressed through tactics that have their roots in poll taxes and literacy tests.
Look at Georgia where they made it a crime to hand out water or snacks to voters waiting in terribly long lines.
And they made it harder to vote by mail.
And look at Texas where they are rejecting mail-in ballots at an incredible rate. In one county, a quarter of the mail-in ballots were thrown out.
And so we went back to Alabama to forge a new history… to get the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Acts passed.
It is no accident these attacks on our voting rights are happening now.
America’s workers campaigned and mobilized and got out the vote in 2020 so that we have a democratic majority in Congress and the most pro-union administration in our country’s history.
Former union staff are in key positions throughout the Biden administration.
We have a union member leading the Department of Labor and who is leading a task force on organizing and worker empowerment. And they just released a report with a bunch of concrete proposals that the administration has already done… or will do in the future… to make it easier for workers to organize unions and bargain collectively.
And there have been so many wins for working people coming out of Washington it’s been hard to keep up.
The American Rescue Plan was huge. It gave working people the lifeline we needed when we needed it most.
The child care tax credits cut child poverty in half.
And pension security for millions of retirees.
And the infrastructure bill is a major investment in our roads and bridges, ports and airports…
In clean drinking water and high-speed internet…
And in resilient transmission lines and climate change mitigation.
All while creating good-paying union jobs in Louisiana and across the country.
It also strengthens our supply chains and Buy America rules to help stop the outsourcing of those good union jobs.
It connects prevailing wages and high labor standards to the jobs created, and I know this state fed will make sure those commitments are honored.
Our work isn’t done. We need to keep pushing for President Biden’s agenda for working people.
The framework includes a key piece of the PRO Act so union-busting employers who violate our right to organize will be hit with real penalties.
It cracks down on tax loopholes so corporations and the wealthy finally will pay a little more of their fair share.
It makes huge investments in child care and elder care so more working families can get back to work.
Major energy investments… more infrastructure investments…
All with working people and the long-term health of our economy in mind.
We have an opportunity to build a better future for our children and our grandchildren.
And we cannot let it pass us by.
It is our job to communicate to our members who is delivering for them…
Look, that sounds like it should be easy but there is so much misinformation and disinformation out there, a lot of folks can’t separate the truth from the lie. We can be that trusted source of information for our members and we are going to emphasize going back to a tried and true strategy.
We are going to have to have more face-to-face conversations in the workplace…
We are going to have to listen and build trust and talk about the issues that matter.
We are going to talk about President Biden’s record… and how important it is to elect leaders like Governor Edwards… leaders who bring about the greatest change for working people.
Now to build that trust, we need to show all working people that the labor movement is for them.
That we are inclusive and diverse.
And we need to make sure our house is in order by having tough conversations on race and racial justice and equity.
We are having those conversations through the AFL-CIO Task Force on Racial Justice.
And I believe our state feds and CLCs are the key if we want to advance our racial justice agenda.
Through the AFL-CIO Task Force on Racial Justice, we are focusing on expanding the role that labor can play in addressing mass incarceration in Black and Brown communities…
By rolling out programs… like job training and education… to help people return to our communities with a better chance to succeed after they have served their time.
I truly believe the labor movement can tackle this issue and forge real change.
But if we want to guarantee a strong labor movement in the future, we must do the work now to bring younger workers, women and people of color into the fold, and encourage them to take leadership positions.
We need to be prepared and have an avenue for union members ready and able to step up and fill leadership roles.
There’s an energy out there. We need to capture it.
We need to show all working people that the labor movement is for them.
Because tens of millions of working people want in.
Working people are fed up with being underpaid and overworked.
And fed up with feeling unsafe in our own workplaces.
Workers want and deserve the rights and respect that come with a union card.
It’s critical for all of us to continue to organize… to keep building our capacity… and to keep engaging with our communities.
We have a generational opportunity.
Let’s be out front.
Let our members see us and hear us.
Let’s show them that there’s nothing we can’t do when we stand together.
We are part of a powerful movement at a critical time.
Let’s flex our muscle and build a Louisiana… and an America that works for all working people.
Let’s keep going.