Shuler Calls for Action on Federal Infrastructure Policy

Washington, D.C.

The following are AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler's prepared remarks for the IUOE Legislative Policy Conference:

Thank you, President (Jim) Callahan, for that very kind introduction. It has been incredible to watch you bring such clear direction and laser focus to the Operating Engineers. 

To my fellow Secretary-Treasurer, Brian Hickey, thank you for your camaraderie and friendship in the trenches, along with the entire General Executive Board for your vision and dedication to our movement. We are in good hands. 

Good morning, sisters and brothers! It’s so good to be with you today. I bring greetings from the 12.5 million working people of the AFL-CIO, who are standing with me in spirit on this stage, fighting the fights and celebrating the victories alongside you.

I’m a proud IBEW member. Travelers in our union sometimes joke that IBEW stands for “I’ve Been Every Where.” And, these past few years, it’s really felt that way—from Portland to Poughkeepsie to Puerto Rico—and so many places in between. 

As I travel the country, I’m excited to see that construction is booming, creating good, middle-class union jobs—jobs that allow you to provide for your family and live with dignity. 

I’m also excited to see that there are new union members in non-traditional industries, like museums. I’m talking about the 140 employees at the Guggenheim Museum in New York who are now proud card-carrying members of IUOE Local 30! Give it up for that victory!

And, I’m excited to see workers speaking out and taking risks like we haven’t seen in years: 

  • Teachers from Arizona to West Virginia walked out for the respect they deserve. 

  • UNITE HERE members at Marriott demanded that “One job should be enough” and won the right to negotiate over how technology impacts their jobs. 

  • And, UFCW members at Stop & Shop grocery stores across New England quickly brought the corporation back to the bargaining table and secured better wages after walking out this spring. 

But, it’s not just union members calling for a fair return on work.

  • You probably heard about the Amazon fulfillment center employees in Minnesota who went on strike on Amazon Prime Day, calling for better working conditions and respect on the job. 

  • Google workers worldwide staged massive protests last fall, demanding an end to workplace harassment. 

  • And, video game developers are joining together to fight for a voice at work.  

As I travel, I’ve walked some of these picket lines and talked to some of these workers, really listening to the issues on their minds. I know you hear the same things back home: Paychecks are not going as far as they used to. Health care costs are eating up gains at the bargaining table. Downward pressure on retirement security. Attacks on our democracy. The growth in technology and how that will impact the future of work and the future of workers.  

More and more, working people see America as a place where the rich get richer and the rest of us get by. Frankly, it’s not hard to see why. Not when 40% of Americans don’t have $400 in the bank for an emergency, and more than 60% of Americans haven’t seen a raise in more than a year. 

And, for the 9 in 10 workers not yet in unions, that anxiety is multiplied. They simply do not have access to the kind of quality jobs that your members bargain for every day.

Here’s the thing: It doesn’t have to be this way. Economic insecurity is not inevitable. It’s a policy choice. We can choose different policies. 

And, I think it’s time for a change. Don’t you? 

One of the best ways to reverse inequality is through investment. 

So, let’s invest! And let’s start with our infrastructure. 

We should be spending our tax dollars on policies that benefit the middle class, fix our roads and bridges and put the hard-working women and men of the Operating Engineers to work on job sites in every single community across the country.

President Callahan knows what I’m talking about. At the 2017 AFL-CIO convention in St. Louis, he led our resolution on infrastructure. He talked about the once in a lifetime opportunity we have in front of us. To build America. To grow the labor movement. To create good, high-paying, family-sustaining jobs. 

This should be a no-brainer. It’s one of the few issues where business and labor agree. And, for years, we’ve heard both Democrats and Republicans all say they support infrastructure investment, too. 

Yet, here we are...again...still waiting. Aren’t you sick of waiting, sisters and brothers? 

I am!
Because the livelihoods of working people and the future of our nation’s infrastructure shouldn’t be a partisan issue. Bottom line: It’s time for the federal government to step up and lead on infrastructure, and especially, a highway bill. 

I hope the rumors that a draft could be coming soon are true. If so, that’d be record time! But until we see ink on paper, we’re going to keep fighting for a long-term bill that lifts working people up, grows our economy, creates good jobs and provides more opportunities for women and people of color! 

We cannot and will not tolerate more inaction. 

So, when you go up to the Hill, push your elected officials and demand that infrastructure and a highway bill be their top priority. Ask them to finally get this done for the American people. 

It’s time to rebuild our country with union labor and Davis-Bacon. And here’s the best part: Building our infrastructure will also help build our labor movement. More dollars available for construction creates jobs and means more opportunities for training as new people come into our movement.

Did you know the labor movement is the second largest provider of worker training in the U.S. behind only the military?

That’s our best-kept secret. But it shouldn’t be! Not when student loan debt is now more than a TRILLION dollars...leaving millions of families burdened with enormous bills, only to see their child struggle to climb the economic ladder upon graduation.

We need to let more people know about apprenticeship programs, which can lead to a career filled with dignity, opportunity and advancement. 

Everyone is talking about workforce development and training like it’s something new. But, the Operating Engineers have been training working people for more than 100 years. And, it works!

Look at the incredible, state of the art, 265-acre training facility in Crosby, Texas. President Callahan, congratulations on an enormously successful first year. Even though I haven’t seen it in person yet, I’m confident in saying that it’s a home run: More than 200 dorm rooms, 12 crane pads, welding bays, 17 modern classrooms and labs—what more could you want? I hope to make a trip there soon to see it for myself!

This type of investment in training and education is an incredible way to show our value and relevance to the broader public as well. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen people who are anti-union change their minds when they learn everything our movement is doing to improve people’s lives. 

Building strong partnerships—both public and private—are also crucial to our survival, and the Operating Engineers can show the entire labor movement the way on that. 

For example, right now, Operating Engineers and members from across the Building Trades are working with NASA on the SLS Rocket at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, your members are helping to prepare for future missions to Mars. How incredible is that? 

It’s not totally surprising though. You’ve been making history since the beginning of your union: The Golden Gate Bridge, the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty and Hoover Dam—these are all your projects. America wouldn’t look the same without the work of the Operating Engineers! And, that’s something to be enormously proud of. 

You are proof that by creating and sustaining good jobs and training workers for the future, we can win a stronger, more prosperous America. 

We have a lot of work to do, but I like our chances. Our movement is changing, getting stronger, bigger and more popular with the public. And with the Operating Engineers leading the way, we’re showing America that when we stand together, we win together. 

Thank you for having me today. Let’s get to work!