Speech | Better Pay and Benefits

Shuler 2013 AFL-CIO Convention Acceptance

Los Angeles

Wow! Thank you. Thank you all so much.

Brothers and sisters.... It is a true joy to stand before you today, and I proudly accept your nomination to serve as Secretary-Treasurer for another four years.

Before I do anything else I want to say thank you to Ed Hill. As was the case four years ago, I can think of no single human being I'd rather have nominate me again today. President Hill you are a visionary leader, a genuine mentor, and a true friend. Thanks to my sisters in solidarity, Secretary-Treasurer Lynne Dodson of the Washington State Fed and Roxanne Brown of the United Steelworkers.

Thank you all for the journey we are about to undertake together – building a new day for the labor movement. And we are going to do it according to the first principle of labor – together in solidarity.

Four years ago, I stood before you and pledged that my stewardship of the AFL-CIO's money -- your money, the money of your members -- would be carried out with a renewed commitment to transparency and accountability. We knew that we were not insulated from the pain of a troubled economy. Working families – our members -- took the biggest hit as the great recession gnawed away at their jobs, their health care, their very security. And this was on top of the relentless political attacks on collective bargaining. We knew our affiliates were tightening their belts –and that ours would have to be taken in a few notches as well. We got it, and we acted accordingly.

So we scrutinized our finances to the smallest detail. We made tough choices and set priorities. THE RESULT IS, as of the last fiscal year, we have a balanced budget. THE RESULT IS a 22-million-dollar turnaround in our net assets. The result is that our finances are being handled in accordance with the highest professional standards. As Secretary-Treasurer, this is my NUMBER ONE commitment to you.

Thanks to the good work of the Finance Committee, together, we've met our responsibility, and we will not let up on our efforts. Our improved financial situation is a major step forward, but it is not a signal to relax our vigilance or loosen our standards. As we have heard throughout this convention and in Rich's rousing keynote, the AFL-CIO is on the move, tackling the most vital issues of the day, and we are better positioned now financially than we were four years ago.

Of course, we're nowhere near out of the woods. We all know there will continue to be challenges ahead. And we re-commit ourselves to the principles of transparency and accountability that have gotten us this far.

Four years ago, I also talked about the need to redefine how the public sees unions. To put it plainly, we've got an image problem. Rich asked me to lead the effort to change the perception of the labor movement in the hearts and minds of the public. Our opponents have done a great job creating a disconnect between what labor unions do – and what the public thinks we do. It's gotten to the point where our message rings hollow in the ears of those who need to hear it the most.

The answer is not to get frustrated with the people outside our movement who just don't "get it" and don't automatically understand our value. The answer is to engage those people where they live. To help them see that our core values are the same as theirs – values like equality...fairness...patriotism...and hard work. Our answer is to show them, that work connects us all.

We've made a strong start – identifying 8 principles to drive the project, strategies that work and creative partnerships with Univision, Upworthy – an online social sharing site for young people -- Blogher and Jezebel. We did things that worked spectacularly and things that maybe didn't work so well. But the bottom line is, we have to try new things. We knew going in that this would be a long term initiative. It took decades to lose public confidence, and we will not regain it in a week, a month, or a year. This will be a sustained, dedicated effort, and we must keep it moving forward.

The last area we talked about in Pittsburgh is the critical need to engage young workers in the labor movement – to listen to their concerns and give them a sense of belonging and ownership. This has been probably the most rewarding part of the job so far and the most challenging!

Our NextUp program has created new paths, new networks – and yes, new twitter feeds -- for young workers to engage in their unions and local labor federations. It has sparked young people's imaginations, and given them the tools and skills they need to organize and lead the fight for their future. I don't have the words to fully describe the feeling when you see the light in a young person's eyes... when they realize that their desire to be part of something bigger than themselves is within reach... when they see that they have power. Let's harness that power – and bring the old school and the new school together in solidarity!

I will go anywhere and talk to anyone who will listen about the energy and optimism of young workers and their critical role in the next wave of our movement. And I'm proud to do this work with the Young Worker Advisory Council, with so many of our affiliates and with dozens of Young Worker Groups across the country. I'm not even going to try to list them all.

And through all of this work, I am drawn again and again into conversations about how we can stand up for working people in new and different ways. With young people, it's often about new forms of communication – tweets and texts not phone and email. With women, it's about new forms of labor standards like paid sick days or different models of leadership development. And, with unions more generally, it's about how we can use technology to our advantage or think about old challenges in new ways. My hope for the next four years is to identify and promote these kinds of innovations that put the labor movement on the leading edge of workplace change.

Above all, it has been a great honor to be part of a leadership team that has given working people a new, stronger voice. It has been a privilege to stand together with my teammates – Rich, your passion for this movement inspires me everyday. Arlene, I'll miss you and simply say, you're a giant. And I look forward to working with Tefere Gebre. I know his great work in Orange County and can't wait to have his energy and creativity in D.C.

Time does not allow me to do justice in giving thanks to all those whose love, friendship and support made it possible for me to stand here before you today. My loving husband, David Herbst, is my rock and is my partner in all things – who stays up with me until all hours of the night, fine-tuning my speeches! My parents, Lance Shuler and my late mother Joyce, who together instilled the values of hard work and compassion in me and whose love made me the person I am today. My sister Anna and her husband Ansis, and my sweet nephews Roland and Lance...I'm so grateful for your support and advice and a gentle shove when needed. And my IBEW family – you know who you are, and I love you all.

Brothers and sisters, the road is long. The obstacles are daunting. But we are armed with the greatest tool of all – the truth – the truth of justice and dignity and solidarity. So let us continue the journey. Let's go forward from Los Angeles and bring our truth to all those who work for a living and hope for a brighter day.

Thank you.

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