Redmond: Unions Are Pathways to Better Futures

Albany, N.Y.

AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Fred Redmond delivered the following remarks as prepared to the New York State Association of Black, Puerto Rican and Asian Legislators Conference:

Thank you, Anthony [Harmon], my brother and friend, for that very kind introduction. Anthony and I have had the privilege of working together on a number of issues and his work is always fantastic, whether it’s supporting educators or advancing social justice in the labor movement and beyond.

And the same goes for today’s honorees, Sister [Nancy] Hagans and Sister [Janella] Hinds and Brother [Donald] Nesbitt, I’m glad you’re getting this recognition. You deserve it. Congratulations.

I also want to recognize [New York State] Senator Jessica Ramos for her grit and tenacity. You’re a tremendous advocate for New York’s working people.

And Charlene Gayle, thank you for your leadership in putting this conference together and bringing us all together at a crucial time in our nation’s history. It’s so important to have leaders that look like our communities and who can share their perspectives and experiences to make sure all voices are heard and represented.


As Anthony said, I’m Fred Redmond, secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO. We're a federation of 57 unions representing more than 12.5 million working people in all sectors of the economy.

And working people in every sector of the economy have been through a lot the past couple of years.

The pandemic and the 2020 elections. The attacks on our democracy. The attacks on our right to vote and our right to organize. And now we are all on edge from Putin’s attack on Ukraine and our hearts go out to the people there.

In the labor movement, our solidarity doesn’t stop at the borders.

Our Solidarity Center has an office over there and they’re on the ground supporting Ukrainian union members and their families.

We have been working closely with the International Trade Union Confederation to coordinate our response and provide needed relief.

And Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, was in Poland this week. She met with teachers and students who had to flee their homes, as well as with Polish labor leaders and humanitarian groups. Like all of us, she is working on finding more ways we can help. 

In the labor movement we know that moments of great challenge can - and often do - become moments of unity and moments of opportunity. After the challenges we’ve faced here at home over the last few years, – working people across the country are fed up and they are recognizing their power. They are coming together and standing up for their rights at the ballot box and on the job. 

They are standing together for better pay and benefits and safer jobs. We know our power. We know we are essential - to our  employers, our communities, and our economy. 

We showed up throughout the pandemic and kept our country running.

We showed up for each other and our communities when they needed us most… 

And now we have the momentum and we have a chance to come back stronger than ever before.

Working people are looking to unions as a pathway to a better future.

In newsrooms, museums, nonprofits, retail and clean energy – workers are joining together in existing and emerging sectors.

Just look at what’s been happening here in New York:

Workers in Manhattan formed the first ever union at REI.

Tech workers at the New York Times just formed the largest tech worker union in the country. 

Workers at Starbucks in Buffalo organized and kicked off a domino effect that is sweeping coffee shops nationwide – including the new union at the Manhattan Flagship.

In Niagara Falls, Cascades ContainerBoard workers organized with the Machinists after a three year effort.

And just last week, workers on Staten Island formed the first ever union at Amazon. At Amazon.

Even as Amazon continues to break the law, workers continue to defy the odds. Chris Smalls is a big reason why and I’m thrilled he is being recognized today for his efforts. His persistence and passion is changing the narrative.

We can see the power shifting. Everybody knows it. Even the President.

As President Biden said at our building trades conference in Washington the other day – “Amazon, here we come.”

President Biden recognizes the power of working people and he knows that the choice to join a union belongs to workers and workers alone. 

This is why we worked so hard and campaigned and mobilized and got out the vote in 2020: For a democratic majority in Congress and the most pro-union administration in our country’s history.

And that work that all of us put in is why we are now making  the investments workers have been demanding for so long.

The American Rescue Plan… it was a critical lifeline we needed. It put money in people’s pockets and kept our economy from skidding off the rails.

And the bipartisan infrastructure bill…

Hundreds of thousands of jobs… good, life-changing union jobs… in New York and across the country.

This bill strengthens our supply chains… and Buy America rules to help stop the outsourcing of good union jobs.

It connects prevailing wages and high labor standards to the jobs created, and we are going to make sure those commitments are honored.

But our work isn’t done. We’re still pushing for more in President Biden’s Building a Better America plan. 

At the top of the list is a key piece of the PRO Act that will make sure union-busting employers who violate our right to organize will be hit with real penalties…

That list also includes making major investments in energy and manufacturing supply chains… with stronger Buy American provisions…

It includes making prescription drugs more affordable. Investing in education… and in child care and elder care so more working families can get back to work.

That is the agenda people voted for. And the labor movement is committed to making sure our union members know who can deliver it – and who has already delivered for them as we head into the 2022 elections.

We’re going to connect the dots. 

We’re going to remind them that elections have consequences. 

Remind them who delivered for working people and our economy at all levels of the government… who showed up and pushed for and passed legislation that will help working families and shrink the inequality gap.

There’s a lot of good recent examples we’re going to lift up here in New York:

Safe staffing levels at every hospital and nursing home so patients get the care they need and deserve.

Collective bargaining rights for immigrants and undocumented workers because a union job is a safer job, and now the farmworkers at Pindar Vineyards can address their concerns without fear or retaliation.

Equity and high labor standards for cannabis workers because jobs in ALL industries should be good jobs. 

And high-road, high-quality jobs to develop New York’s offshore wind and strengthen our supply chain and offshore grid. Good jobs up and down the East Coast.

All of these advances were made possible by labor and legislators… including many of you here today…

When New York’s working people are at the table and have a voice at all levels of the government, it shows.

If we keep lifting up those voices and working together, we can build a better future for our children and grandchildren.

We can raise labor standards across industries.

We can guarantee our taxpayer dollars are used for equitable and diverse workforce training programs.

We can create an economy that is responsive to the needs of working families. 

Now look, I said that we’re going to talk to our members about the good work you’re doing for working people. 

I need you to do the same. Talk to your colleagues across the country. Share your successes. Tell them how putting workers first is good for us all and for democracy. 

Tell them that when we stand together there is nothing we can’t do. 

Thank you.