Redmond: A Union Job Changed Everything

Phoenix, AZ

AFL-CIO Secretary Treasurer Fred Redmond delivered the following remarks at the First Institutional Baptist Church:

Good morning. Thank you, Pastor [Warren] Stewart, for welcoming me to your church. It is great to be here today. 

Every morning when my feet hit the floor I am grateful. I thank God for this opportunity. To work. To serve. To live a meaningful life.

St. Augustine instructed us to pray as though everything depends on God. And to work as though everything depends on us. So today we pray. For peace and prosperity. For every worker, every family and every community. But we also must work. With every ounce of energy God gives us. To build a better society. A society where work pays. And workers are safe. Where health care 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.

Brothers and sisters, a union job can be the difference. I know from experience. I am the son of Curtis and Odessa Redmond. They were the children of sharecroppers. They were born in the Mississippi Delta and made the great migration up to Chicago in 1958. They came with very few belongings but a very strong desire to build a better life. My three brothers and I grew up poor. We lived on food stamps. My mother shopped at Goodwill. While we had little money, my parents were rich in love. In hope. In faith. In an unbreakable work ethic. My father took every kind of job he could find. He pumped gas, was a janitor, and stocked shelves at the supermarket. My mother was a domestic worker. She woke up every day at the crack of dawn and took three buses to the far suburbs of Chicago to clean folks’ houses and cook their food. Every night, after taking three busses back, she would sit at the foot of her bed and soak her feet and read her Bible. No complaints. No excuses. 

Then something big happened. Something that changed everything. That something was a union job. My dad started working at an aluminum mill outside of Chicago called Reynolds. He had that union job, and so we had more security, opportunity, prosperity. We stopped going to the free clinic. We got off of food stamps. We still went to our local Goodwill—only now it was to donate clothes. More families are waiting for that kind of change. But it’s being held back from them— stolen from too many. Too many Black families. Too many immigrant families. Too many Native American families. Too many young families. All so business can make another buck. They get a dollar. And we lose a dream. 

It has to stop. 

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 here in Arizona 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. It reared its ugly head on January 6. It is showing its face in Arizona’s sham election audit. And it is given new life every time a corporation tries to stop workers from coming together on the job.

But we can overcome. We can rise above. The good people of this nation—all colors, all creeds, young and old—believe in an America of liberty and justice for all. We can pass voting rights and worker empowerment legislation like the PRO Act. We can make sure our elected leaders hear us and listen to us. We can organize for change, just as Dr. King did, while not giving in to fear or hate or division.

Labor Day is a celebration of the worker. Workers like my parents and the quiet heroes in each of our families. Workers who are serving America through a pandemic, teaching our children, building our roads and caring for the sick. So let’s give honor to God, the head of our life. And let’s honor the workers who are carrying out His will every single day.

Thank you and God bless you.