Redmond: Responsible Investing Starts with Labor

Hollywood, Fla.

AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Fred Redmond delivered the following remarks as prepared to the 45th Annual National Labor & Management Conference:

Hello, everyone. I’m Fred Redmond, secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO. We are a federation of 57 unions representing 12.5 million workers in all sectors of the economy.

It’s good to see a lot of my brothers, sisters and friends from labor here this morning. Thank you for keeping our nation humming along.

And I hope there are folks out there who represent management. Thank you for attending, for listening, for providing your own insights and perspective this weekend.

And I’d like to take a moment to thank Bill [Raisch] and Barbara [McCabe] and the whole National Labor and Management team for inviting me to participate in this important conference.

We’ve heard a lot of good ideas over the course of the weekend. To strengthen and grow our economy. To strengthen our communities. To make sure our investments are sustainable…good for workers and good for the environment.

What has been made clear over this week is that it is going to take all of us…labor and management together…to provide real relief, build a real recovery and an equitable future.

The infrastructure bill that recently passed is the shot in the arm we needed toward that recovery and future. 

Millions of good, union jobs to fix our roads and bridges and waterways…upgrades to our ports and airports.

It strengthens our supply chains. 

It strengthens Buy America rules to help boost domestic manufacturing.

And it takes strides to mitigate the climate crisis that jeopardizes our future…and our children’s and grandchildren’s future on this planet.

This investment is long overdue.

And it adds up to American jobs, benefiting workers in manufacturing and throughout the supply chain.

The key phrase here is “benefiting workers.”

The Biden administration recognizes it is not enough just to drive investment. It has to transform supply chains by including labor standards.

And this bill does just that. It applies Davis-Bacon prevailing wage protections to new programs to make sure workers receive fair wages and come home safe.

It’s building back better with resiliency in mind. 

And building back better with workers at the center of the policy so that the working Americans who design, build, operate, and maintain the infrastructure we all use every day can count on those jobs as good jobs.

As our nation shifts away from the neglect and underinvestment of the past, we need to apply the same principle to all of our investments.

To make sure our investments are responsible and sustainable. 

That they invest in people, by creating good jobs that pay family-sustaining wages. 

Investments that address climate change by protecting the environment while raising living standards in all of our communities regardless of income or zip code.
These goals are something we can all agree upon. They are pro-worker and pro-business. And they strengthen the economic and social bonds that hold us together. 


Now look, there is an anti-union, anti-worker culture in this nation and that has to change.

Unions have been pushed aside the past 40 years. Decisions about our future were made without us at the table. And now we’re seeing the cracks in the system.

The generations before us had a voice on the job and earned living wages. That was done through strong union contracts, which helped create an economic system that allowed a middle class to grow. 

And made sure that those who built our country and contributed to its economy could support themselves and their families. 

We owe the generations that come after us to have that same opportunity. 

It is our responsibility…labor and management together…to make sure our economy hums and our communities thrive. All communities. No one left behind.

How do we do that? How do we make sure our recovery from the pandemic is equitable and our future investments are sustainable?

I will argue by respecting the collective power of workers who seek family-sustaining wages, good benefits, a safe job and a secure retirement through collective bargaining.

Now, we can get there legislatively by fixing our broken labor laws…and I believe we will.

It is a top priority of the labor movement and right now there is a bill in the Senate which I’m sure many of you are extremely familiar with. The PRO Act would protect and empower workers to exercise our freedom to organize and bargain.

It would make sure that workers can reach a first contract on a fair timetable after our union is recognized.

It will put real teeth in the laws that prohibit bad actors from union busting.

And it will give workers in sectors currently prevented from forming a union – the some 60 million people who would vote to join a union today if given the opportunity – the opportunity to do so.

That’s one way. 

But as we work toward demanding labor laws that catch up with what workers want and need, we need to use our voices as investors to promote sustainable business practices.

This means embracing environmental, social and corporate governance standards in our investment process.

And we need to demand more from companies included in sustainable investment funds.

Those companies should serve all its stakeholders. Its customers and shareholders. The environment. AND workers and our communities.

Those companies should be as committed to their social impact as they are to their environmental impact and corporate structure.

Now, how does a company improve its social impact? By having:

Reasonable working hours, good wages, and strong health and safety standards;

Diversity and inclusion in hiring practices. And equity in pay and training and career advancement;

Policies to prevent workplace discrimination;

A commitment to keep their manufacturing and production facilities here in the United States;

A commitment to allow workers to join a union without interference or harassment;

And a commitment to bargain collectively in good faith.

Those things should sound very familiar to union folks. Because they are. At the heart of social impact is worker rights.

Now look, right now there isn’t an industry-wide set of standards to measure a company’s environmental performance, social impact and corporate governance issues.

Most of the time, a company’s sustainability rating is handled by an independent rating agency.

And how these rating agencies evaluate a company can be a mystery. They use different scales to weigh different criteria. Which makes what they weigh hard to quantify.

For some rating agencies, if a company mentions diversity, equity and inclusion on its website, then that is enough to show the company is committed to diversity and inclusion in its hiring practices, and equity in pay. 

In one case, a rating agency used an employee satisfaction rating to satisfy a labor relations criteria. On Glassdoor or some shit like that.

The lack of standards and oversight has rendered some of these ratings meaningless.

Investors want to know whether a company is truly committed to improving the environment and society, or if it’s only committed to serving its public relations objectives.

Investors want companies to disclose how they handle climate change risks, whether they treat their workers fairly, how they promote diversity in hiring and leadership.

And the SEC is looking to develop standards on such disclosures, which is welcome.

But if investors want to know if a company is a responsible investment, they don’t need to scan that company’s website for diversity, equity and inclusion…or count the number of stars next to that company’s name on an employment site. 

Investors only need to check two things:

Is the company’s workforce union?

And if not, is the company obstructing its workforce from forming a union?

Those are the only metrics necessary. Here’s why:

Unions, by design, advocate for workers’ rights and hold employers accountable. We work with employers to negotiate fair wages, fair benefits, the opportunity for advancement. 

Diversity and equity and inclusion aren’t just buzzwords you find on our website, these words…these values…are baked into our contracts.

Because equity and opportunity are baked in unions.

Unions help close the gender and racial wage gap.

Here are a few statistics you won’t find on company disclosures:

The hourly wages for women workers represented by a union are 4.7% higher on average than for nonunionized women workers.  

Black workers represented by a union are paid 13.1% more.

And Latino and Hispanic workers are paid 18.8% more.  

Now, there are some companies with non-union workers who provide decent pay and benefits and share labor’s values on diversity and inclusion. 

But I will say this: a collective bargaining agreement ensures those wages and benefits stay decent, and our socially responsible values are adhered to.

A collective bargaining agreement is the single-most powerful tool to make sure all workers are included, workplaces are diverse and accessible, that there is equity in hiring practices, pay and advancement opportunities.

And that workers gain the skills needed for the jobs of today, and the jobs of tomorrow. 

A little known fact is that the labor movement has the largest workforce training program in America besides the U.S. military.

Our unions have the best training infrastructure in the country. We create new career opportunities and pathways for those who’ve been marginalized.

We partner with employers, government agencies and local communities to provide training for new and returning workers. 

Some 65 percent of registered apprentices are in labor-affiliated programs, contributing more than $1.5 billion a year to the economy. 

In our building trades, we take part in more than 1,600 joint labor-management apprenticeship training committees.

And our training programs are focused on recruiting women, people of color, veterans, and the formerly incarcerated. So our workforce, in all sectors, reflects our society as a whole.

The labor movement is the criteria for a diverse and inclusive workforce.

But our apprenticeship and training programs make sure our members aren’t just trained, but that they are the best at what they do. Not only in construction and manufacturing, but in emerging sectors like clean energy.

The renewable energy industry has doubled in size over the past decade and our unions are providing on-the-job training where workers develop the industry-recognized and portable skill sets that will be in demand for a long time to come.

So workers can move seamlessly between onshore and offshore wind and solar generation and battery storage fields. 

So workers are trained and credentialed to install and maintain electric vehicle charging equipment so charging stations are installed safely, effectively, and up to national electric code.

We are generating a skilled workforce for a good, family-sustaining career as we meet the climate crisis head on. 

And here’s the thing, this is not an either-or-issue. To answer the climate crisis we have to protect the environment AND keep and create good jobs.

This is another key piece of sustainable investing, especially as it relates to the environmental criteria – green jobs aren't necessarily good jobs. 

Many of these jobs have been non-union, pay poorly, and rely on imported components, like solar cells, batteries and wind turbines.

That has to change. 

Our resilient infrastructure companies must pay their employees well, be union represented, have labor protections that support workers...with domestic sourcing. 

The U.S. must not allow the use of forced labor to meet our nation’s needs. 

If any component is powered by forced labor, it is not “clean” energy. It’s not sustainable either.

In recent years we have seen a dramatic increase in renewable energy investment by private equity, real estate and infrastructure funds. But are these private funds addressing the need for an equitable transition for workers?

Our pension plans are allocating capital to private funds that are investing in the clean energy economy. This investment in America’s supply chains can set global labor standards for clean energy production.

And in this department, the labor movement is making some headway in renewable wind projects.

In Rhode Island, workers in the building trades built the first successful offshore wind farm in the U.S.

And the work was collaborative…with the developer…through our labor-management partnership. It’s a high-road jobs strategy that we want to replicate within the entire industry and in other clean energy sectors…like carbon capture and storage.

And as we move toward a clean energy future, I should note we have a trained workforce to help clean up existing oil and gas wells and abandoned mines.

And miners who will mine minerals like lithium, copper, iron and nickel for energy storage, solar cells, batteries, electric vehicles and more.

The renewable energy sector with good, union jobs can be the sweet spot of a sustainable investment. Good for the environment and good for workers. 

And good for our economy if the company has a healthy corporate governance structure.

Gross inequality is another key component of a sustainable investment.

And it is something America’s workers are passionate about.

We have reached a breaking point. The pandemic has pulled back the curtain and is revealing the cracks. It’s putting the inequities and injustices of our systems on full display.

Where Black and Brown Americans are disproportionately harmed.

Where low-wage workers are called essential but treated as expendable.

Where we’re pushing ourselves harder than ever only to be rewarded with disrespect. 

Where companies like Amazon pockets massive tax breaks while its employees live off food stamps.

Where the average CEO makes 300 times the average worker – makes more in a month than many of us could ever hope to make in a lifetime.

In every corner of the country — from warehouses and supermarkets to offices and hospitals — America’s workers are finding strength in each other.

At Kellogg’s and Nabisco. At John Deere. These companies raked in huge profits during the pandemic…and then denied workers their fair share.

America’s workers don’t want to go on strike…it is a last resort…but they are more united than ever and willing to endure hardship and uncertainty for their future…and for future generations.

In Alabama…some 1,000 miners have been on strike for over 10 months at Warrior Met Coal.

The coal miners gave up wages, health care benefits, pensions and more to allow Warrior Met’s coal mines to emerge from bankruptcy five years ago.

Since then the company has done extremely well. 

But instead of investing in its workers, the profits are paid out to shareholders and hedge fund managers.

The workers are struggling and the community is struggling. And corporate America is holding on to the wealth workers help create.

BlackRock, which is the largest shareholder of the company, holds over 13% of its stock. Its headquarters in New York have been the spot of several protests by Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts, the miners and our allies.

Employers are supposed to serve our communities, not the other way around. And this strike is about the entire community. 

The UWMA members support every local shop, restaurant, service, pharmacy and the people who make those businesses run.

Companies that value their investors more than they value workers and their communities have no place in a sustainable investment fund.


So what do we want our future economy to look like?

As labor and management, we should be heading into these decisions together. 

Business and labor may play different roles, but we share common goals. 

Each of us wants American companies to succeed. Each of us wants workers to be safe, satisfied and productive. 

Each of us wants a future where everyone can enjoy the fulfillment that comes with a good job.

And the key to that future is through collective bargaining.

When workers sit down across the table from employers and bargain, in good faith, working people bring home higher wages and have greater access to health care and a pension. We are more likely to be safe on the job.

And we are more likely to be satisfied with our job. 

And it turns out happy, safe and well-paid workers make for really productive employees. That’s good for business and our economy.

Now look, an unprofitable company does us no good. We have a vested interest in helping our employers succeed. 

And we will stand by those employers where workers have the freedom to bargain for a share of that success. 

Just as the labor movement will make prudent investments in private funds that stand with us – will take that high road to invest in labor partnerships and shared prosperity.

The retirement savings of working people wield enormous power in our nation’s economy. 

15 trillion dollars are invested in retirement programs in the United States. And union members are beneficiaries of 3.5 trillion dollars of pension plans.

Successful investment funds recognize that creating good jobs is the best way to achieve the financial returns that our pension plans need to pay promised retirement benefits.

We cannot have it any other way. We cannot make investments at the expense of working people…with investment managers who don’t share our values, who urge corporations to outsource and offshore jobs, who encourage companies to inflate their stock prices through stock buybacks instead of investing in research and development, or their own employees.

We must ensure investment managers are held accountable and our investments don’t undermine the efforts of the labor movement.

The labor movement has several tools that help us make informed decisions and hold investment managers accountable:

We’re tracking real estate investment managers who do not have responsible contractor policies...

Investment managers on how they voted on our shareholder proposals that increase corporate responsibility.

And the investment managers who support efforts to convert defined benefit plans into defined contribution plans.

And we are making pro-worker investments that create good union jobs and offer competitive returns.

Real estate funds like the AFL-CIO Housing Investment Trust and the Building Investment Trust create new union construction jobs and opportunities for workers, while protecting the retirement security of workers everywhere.

And the AFL-CIO Equity Index Fund encourages corporations to adopt responsible business practices through shareholder activism and proxy voting. 

We are focused on increasing our allocations to these responsible job-creating investments. By doing so, we invest in ourselves and create an economy that works for all of us.


That’s the goal, right? An economy that works for all of us.

Working together, labor and management can usher in a workforce of unprecedented skill and professionalism.

Working together we can have a livable planet. Good, union jobs. And an economy centered on diversity and equity. Everybody included, no one left out. 

Let’s use this moment in history and do just that.

Thank you.