Shuler to APRI: Working Women Are the Ties that Bind This Nation Together

Bloomington, MN

AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler's as-prepared remarks for APRI's 50th Education Conference:

Good morning, sisters and brothers!

Clayola: Thank you for your vision, leadership and friendship. 

To President Emeritus Norman Hill, Board Chairman Fred Redmond and the entire board of directors: Thank you for all that you do. APRI is in good hands!

And, my thanks to Minnesota AFL-CIO President Bill McCarthy for hosting us in your beautiful state. 

Sisters and brothers, congratulations on 50 years of this conference. We owe you a big thank you for all your work over these years!

Your theme: “50 Years Later—What’s Going On?” has me thinking about what’s happening across the country right now. 

There’s a lot of sadness, vile and hatred.

More than 30 people gunned down in less than 24 hours. And dozens more injured. 

What senseless tragedies.

Sisters and brothers, if there is one thing we have learned from these horrific yet all too common attacks: It’s that we cannot allow ourselves to become numb. We cannot allow ourselves to turn a blind eye. 

These tragedies must serve as a reminder of how much work we have left to do. How much we must heal...and repair our divisions. 

How much we need action and solidarity. 

As a nation and as a people, we are defined by our values.

And, the labor movement is committed to our communities. Committed to being the voice of solidarity and unity. Committed to fighting for justice and peace. 

Sisters and brothers, we will not be afraid. And, we will not sit on the sidelines!

Solidarity is our guiding light, and solidarity will push us through. 

Since our beginnings, working people have never sat quietly. We’ve been speaking out and fighting arm-in-arm for the future we all deserve. 

And right now, working people are rising up, building a movement of collective action:

Teachers, walking out and rising up for better wages and respect on the job. 

Students, speaking out and demanding safer schools. 

Immigrants, refugees and native-born allies, standing up and showing the world that we should be building bridges, not walls. 

UNITE HERE hotel workers, taking it to the streets and bringing Marriott—the most profitable hotel chain in the world—to the table. 

And, Amazon workers, including right here in Minnesota, who on Amazon Prime Day went on strike for better working conditions and respect. Those warehouses are modern-day sweatshops. 

Their top boss, the richest man in the world, Jeff Bezos, makes in nine seconds what the average Amazon worker makes in a year. 

That’s insane! 

We must do better by these workers, and we must explore ways to grow our movement into different sectors, like Big Tech. 

I know you heard from the incredible folks with the Awood Center yesterday. Aren’t they inspiring? Especially when you think about what they’re up against. 

As much taking on a giant like Amazon is a daunting challenge, it’s also an opportunity to organize and grow our movement. To challenge ourselves to learn and think differently about reaching workers in the tech sector and show them the power of a union. It might look different. Who knows? But workers...are workers...are workers!

And, I believe that the strongest, toughest, fiercest workers just so happen to be women!

Just look at what we’re doing across the country:

The Women’s March, continuing to lift up women’s voices to another stratosphere. 

#MeToo, demanding an end to business as usual; From Hollywood to Wall Street, to right here in the labor movement. 

And, a historic Congress that looks like the true diversity of this country, like rockstar Congresswoman Ilhan Omar! 

Let’s make one thing Crystal clear: Minnesota is her home! She’s not going anywhere! 

Sisters and brothers, the common thread in each of these movements is women. Working women. We are the ties that bind this nation together.

In many important ways, things have improved dramatically for women in the past 50 years. 

When this conference began in 1969, you probably didn’t see many women in jobs outside of secretaries, teachers or nurses. 

Today, women serve as doctors, lawyers, soldiers, astronauts, and yes, as labor leaders. We run big corporations and serve on their boards.

While no one can deny that progress has been made, there is also no denying that we continue to face too many barriers to full equality. 

A typical woman who works full time loses more than half a million dollars over her lifetime because we are still paid less than men. 

This is especially the case for women of color. 

Do you think that’s right? Do you think that’s fair? 


Say it with me, sisters and brothers: No!

As President Obama once said: “It's time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a Mad Men episode.”

As feminists and most importantly, as union members and leaders, we need to be standing up for all working women. 

So if we want equal pay, we need to step up and lead the way.

If we want to have a voice on the job, we need to lead the way.

If we want better, more flexible schedules, we need to lead the way. 

If we want paid family leave, we need to lead the way.

And, if we want a bigger better labor movement, and you know we do, women need to lead the way!

This is critical: The only way women and all working people have a fighting chance is if we grow our labor movement. Because unions are the way to balance the scales. 

With nearly seven million women, we’re already the largest movement of working women in the country. And, the Census Bureau projects that by 2045...people of color will be the majority. 

So, I come here today with a real sense of urgency. We’re facing a tipping point. And if we don’t take advantage of this moment of growth and change and activism and channel it into organizing our unions…then shame on us. 

Just as we are tackling the challenges of technology and automation, we must also use this moment to address underrepresentation. 

We must work to remove barriers to leadership for women and people of color and help prepare them for leadership positions. Our unions and our leadership must reflect the world around us. 

This is a time to take risks. To be bold. And, to get uncomfortable. That’s where real progress is made.

This is where the labor movement is central, not just for women and people of color, but for every single worker in America. 

We’re showing all working people our value by standing up and fighting back against inequality, corporate greed and fighting for labor law reform and immigration reform. 

We’re fighting for civil rights and voting rights. More people will want to join us because we are fighting for them!

APRI understands that. And that's why you are so important to this movement and to the future of our country.

You’re educating. You’re organizing. You’re galvanizing. And it’s this formula that has led to so many successes over the years. 

You’ve rallied against attacks on public sector workers, including the women and men of the U.S. Postal Service.

You’ve united against every injustice with the power of collective bargaining and with the power of the vote. 

And, you’re recruiting young people to our movement! 

I met one of your young leaders, Denicia Montford Williams, earlier this year when we served on a panel for the MLK Conference in Washington, D.C. 

Denicia’s parents, Melvin and Mary, who are long-time union members and activists, serve as both the executive director and president for the North Carolina APRI. After Denicia decided to leave a career in retail, she joined the family business, so to speak. Today, Denicia is leading voter registration drives, advocating for paid sick leave, living wages, a path to citizenship and LGBTQ rights.

Sisters and brothers, we more women like Denicia in our movement. 

We need more women like Sister Katie Jordan, who at 90 years young, serves as president of both the Workers United Retirees Association in Chicago and as Chicago’s CLUW president. Talk about a "she-ro!"

And how about Sister Lovette McGill: An ILA member and president of the Florida Chapter of APRI who got a standing ovation at the AFL-CIO’s 2017 convention when she helped present a resolution on the need for inclusion and equality in our movement. 

Sisters and brothers, these women and their stories and accomplishments are why we need APRI now more than ever before! We know what we are up against, and we need to speak louder than ever before and lead our way toward a better future.

A future that’s going to be won with the help of APRI!

We have a lot of work to do, but I like our chances because when we stand together, when we fight together, when we rise up together, we win together!

So, let’s get to work!

Thank you!