Speech | Future of Work

Shuler to AFL-CIO 2017 Convention: I believe we can shape the future

Saint Louis, Missouri

Let's talk about the future.

The future of work. 

The future of the global economy. 

And the future of the labor movement.

And while this is sometimes presented as a "new" discussion...the fact is that workers and unions have been adapting to changes in the workplace, including technology shifts and evolving employment models, throughout our history.  

Of course, we have always fought for good jobs and job security at the bargaining table, and we fight for skills training so that working people can move into the jobs of the future.

We fight for economic policies that protect good jobs and help transition displaced workers.

We problem solve with employers at joint labor management tables. 

We organize workers in emerging industries. 

We embrace new technology.

Innovation and cutting edge advancements that improve products, services and lives. 

But we do so with the belief that if we get ahead of emerging trends we stand a chance of assuring the aspirations of working people is what drives the transformation of our economy.

The challenge is whether we can make another seismic shift to adapt to the digitalization of work and what's been called the "4th Industrial Revolution."  

It's not just about robots and automation...it's about whether we will watch corporations hollow out employment relationships and middle class careers, or whether we will shape the future of work.  

I believe we can shape the future.  

It will require bold action, risk taking, and, as always, joining, fighting, winning together. 

To shape the future...we have to confront these basic questions: 

How do we make sure that working people have the bargaining power to shape changes in the workplace and counter growing inequality of wealth and power?

How do we extend the rights and protections of employees–in particular bargaining rights to more workers in the new economy?

How do we ensure that working people share in the gains from technological advances, including automation and digitalization?

How do we grow, how do we reverse the decline in union density, and put upward pressure on work arrangements that lower labor standards?

How can we improve the way the labor movement is structured, the way we communicate with all working people, and the way unions use new bargaining strategies to meet these challenges?

We will not answer all those questions in the next 30 minutes...but we do have a plan of action for the labor movement to up our game, to rise to the challenge and confront these difficult questions head on.  

Shortly we will present to the Convention a resolution for the AFL-CIO to form the Commission on the Future of Work and Unions so that this important work can begin with deep sectoral analysis and a plan of attack. 

Together we will embrace the urgency of this moment and ready the labor movement.

We will lift up the powerful principle...that new, different and innovative sectors of our economy and more middle class jobs...are fueled by real bargaining power and strong unions. 

In this challenging time, we have an opportunity to come together to shape the future of work as an unmistakable force for broadly shared prosperity!

This conversation about the future of work is happening literally all over the world including the International Labor Organization and the World Economic Forum.  

Our global partners are having the same debate and are asking the same questions. We know the decline in union density around the world is linked to growing inequality and impacts how much bargaining power we will have in the future world of work.  

We have to work together more closely than ever to ensure race and gender pay gaps in so many countries are closed; that we protect migrant workers and grow sustainable jobs in a greener economy. 

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