Redmond: Tennessee Labor Is Building a Better Society


Good morning. Thank you, Brother Dan (Flippo) for that warm welcome and your strong leadership of Steelworkers Region 9.

President Vonda McDaniel of the Nashville and Middle Tennessee CLC—thank you for your hard work building the council’s capacity this year. And for your friendship and fellowship on the AFL-CIO Executive Council, and for your important work on the Racial Justice Task Force.

Secretary-Treasurer (A.J.) Starling and the entire Executive Board, thank you for your leadership, activism and advocacy across Tennessee.

And of course, I want to thank another fellow Steelworker, Brother Billy (Dycus). The labor movement is better off in this beautiful state of yours—thanks in large part to your vision and fierce determination.

It is great to be here today.

I’m blessed to be in this room with each and every one of you. Your dedication to improving the lives of working people is an inspiration. The work you do every day is the foundation for working people in Tennessee to build a meaningful life.

And our work has never been so meaningful.

200 miles down the road in Memphis, BCTGM members at the Kellogg’s cereal production plant are standing on a picket line—in all kinds of weather—standing together for better working conditions.

These are the same courageous workers who worked long, hard hours, day in and day out—throughout the pandemic—to produce Kellogg’s products for American families.

How did Kellogg thank them? By slashing holiday and vacation pay. Retirement benefits. Quality health care. By taking away the very things we need now more than ever.

For some of those workers, this isn’t new. Kellogg pulled a similar stunt 7 years ago. They tried to cut pay and benefits back then and when they didn’t get their way, they locked out workers—illegally—for 10 months.

The Tennessee AFL-CIO stood in solidarity with those Kellogg workers in 2014, and you’re standing with them again today.

You’re showing the nation a united labor movement will never break!

You’re showing the nation—despite some of the most anti-worker and anti-union laws in the country—we will not be denied our right to build a better society.

A society where work pays. And workers are safe. Where healthcare is a right. And retirement security is a given.

A society where unions are strong and free. And racism is rooted out once and for all.

Our late, great leader and friend, Richard Trumka, said the American labor movement must be the tip of the spear in the fight against racism.

He was absolutely right. There is no institution in America better situated to lead the charge.

And President Shuler is putting racial justice front and center.

We know how racial justice and economic justice are intertwined.

And we know better than anyone how racism is used to divide working people.

Dr. King said that labor and civil rights are the two greatest movements for change. The labor movement built the Black middle class. In auto factories and steel plants. We turned bad jobs into good careers.

The civil rights movement protected the right to vote—a right being trampled on in states across the American South as we speak.

Dr. King said the labor-hater and the race-baiter is a twin-headed creature, spewing anti-Negro epithets from one mouth and anti-labor propaganda from the other mouth.

More than half a century later, that creature is still alive and well.

And here in Tennessee that creature has one ugly head wanting to enshrine “right to work” in the state constitution. And the other ugly head banning schools from discussing the very concept of racism and bias in our nation’s history.

These attacks are meant to silence us. Working people. People of color.

Right to work is a direct descendant of Jim Crow. It is anti-democratic and has no place in our society, much less our constitution.

And I have no doubt you will mobilize Tennessee’s working people and beat it back next fall.

And knock out Governor Bill Lee and all the politicians who serve corporate interests.

America’s labor movement will not be silenced!

Look what’s happening across the country right now. We’re rising. We’re striking. We’re working for a better tomorrow.

Working people have had enough.

Coal miners in Alabama.

Nurses in Massachusetts.

Steelworkers and Machinists in West Virginia.

Distillery workers in Kentucky.

Hospital workers in upstate New York.

Ironworkers in Pennsylvania.

10,000 John Deere workers in Iowa and Illinois.

Working people are seeing the power of standing together.

600 metal trades workers at Arnold Air Force Base went on strike in July and won a fair contract. Better pay, health care, disability benefits and dignity in the workplace.

Right here in Nashville—following mass layoffs due to the pandemic—the Nashville Musicians Association came back and won a strong contract for orchestra musicians.

And just this morning—the solidarity of more than 60,000 I.A.T.S.E. members brought some of the biggest Hollywood production companies back to the bargaining table and they won a fair contract! The film and television workers were negotiating for basic human needs. Like adequate sleep, meal breaks and living wages.

You know when union members authorize a strike for the first time in its 128-year history, working people are fed up.

America is taking notice of our collective action. And it is an education. Working people are waking up to the value and importance of labor unions.

Brothers and sisters, a union job can be the difference. I know from experience.

My three brothers and I grew up poor in Chicago. But then my dad took a job at an aluminum mill. It was a good, union job. And it changed everything.

We had more security—opportunity—prosperity. We were on our way to a solid middle-class life.

I followed my dad into the mill right out of high school. Got involved with the local. Attended meetings. Ran for shop steward. Then grievance chair. And ultimately I became president of the local.

That good, union job made all of the difference for me too. It was my path forward. And it provided me with the opportunity to help improve the lives of working people.

I suspect most of you here today carved a similar path. And for the same reason.

We know the transformative power of a union job. It is life changing.

More working people want that kind of change.

Sixty-eight percent of Americans support unions. Nearly half of nonunion workers would join a union today if they could.

But that chance to join one—to have that security and opportunity—protection from discrimination—equal pay for equal work—is being pushed out of reachby corporations who want to keep all the profits and power for themselves.

They want to deny us a voice on the job.

All so business can make another buck. They get a dollar. And we lose a dream.

It has to stop.

Everyone should have access to the life-changing power of a good, union job.

So we are going to keep pushing to update labor laws for this century. That starts with the PRO Act. It is the key to our future and America’s future and the greater good.

And right along with it, we’re going to pass the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act. Because most public employees in Tennessee are denied their right to collectively bargain for a better life.

And right along with worker empowerment legislation, we’re going to protect and expand our voting rights.

Both are fundamental to our democracy.

We can make sure our elected leaders hear us and listen to us.

Right now there are two important pieces of voting rights legislation in Congress. The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, and the Freedom to Vote Act. I understand Senator Schumer intends to bring the Freedom to Vote Act to a vote this week.

This legislation would end racial discrimination in voting and will be a major step in restoring the balance of power to working people and our democracy.

And that’s what we’re fighting for.

Democracy for all.

That’s what we voted for in the 2020 elections.

That’s what workers are standing together for in 2021.

And that’s what we’ll keep striving for today, tomorrow and every day.

That is why we are here in Nashville. To strengthen America’s labor movement. To strengthen our democracy. And ensure every worker has a chance at a better life.

Tennessee, you make America stronger.

Thank you. Have a great convention and God bless.

I’m going to stick around if you have any questions.