Shuler: CLUW Is Standing Up for Democracy

AFL-CIO President delivered the following remarks as prepared at the CLUW Biennial Convention.

Thank you so much, Tarn, for that wonderful introduction, my IBEW sister. It has been a joy working alongside you and watching your leadership in the IBEW! Elise, thank you and CLUW national officers.

Good afternoon everyone! It is such a thrill to be with you and feel the power of the working women in our movement. The labor movement is the largest organization of working women in the country—6.5 million strong! And the work CLUW has done to grow that activism and leadership is inspiring.

I am so excited to be joining you today, with such a powerhouse lineup of leaders—too many to mention but a phenomenal group of women (and men) who are relentless champions for women and working people. Fighting for gender equity and building power in the workplace.

When we come together at these conventions, we network with each other, share our stories, and see examples of leadership that motivate the next generation of leaders—in the workplace, or even at the highest levels of our government.

This is a critical moment for women—and for our labor movement—to stand up for democracy and fight for the values we share and the country we love—as you did at last weekend’s Women’s March.

We are going to show up, stand up, and claim our power. We did in 2020—that was a year like no other for working women. We had a vision and we showed up.

Women of every age and color and faith voted in record numbers to oust the most anti-worker and misogynistic president in American history—and elected the most pro-worker president in our history—and the first woman vice president ever.

“First woman” has a nice ring, doesn’t it?

We worked overtime to deliver a pro-worker majority in the U.S. Senate.

And we voted in a pro-worker majority in the U.S. House—which includes a record number of women.

One in four members of Congress are women, including 40 percent of Democrats. Thirty years ago when Representative DeLauro first took office, women made up only six percent of Congress.

When women run for office and win—when union women run for office and win—when our voices are in the halls of power—we create the change we need.

And we have a generational opportunity right now to do exactly that.

There is so much opportunity in front of us.

We’re mobilizing to pass the full Build Back Better agenda—infrastructure AND reconciliation—which together represent one of the greatest investments in working people AND working women in American history.

So we can rebuild our roads and bridges. Make the investments we need in public transportation and clean energy and job training. And access to good, union jobs and middle class opportunities.

And that includes paid family and medical leave, child care investments and universal Pre-K. Because just like roads and bridges, child care and elder care are critical infrastructure.

1.8 million women were sidelined from the workforce during the pandemic to shoulder care responsibilities.

Women lost almost a million more jobs than men—with Black and Latina women taking the greatest hit.

Many women remain on the sidelines.

But we all know this is nothing new.

For far too long, women have been underpaid, undervalued, and expected to take on most of the unpaid work at home.

But this isn’t just a women’s issue—it’s a fundamental economic issue impacting all working people.

Building Back Better will put gender equity where it belongs: at the center of our economic recovery.

Because a strong care infrastructure makes other jobs possible.

And women who do the work in the care economy, overwhelmingly women of color, have long been overlooked and underpaid. Care jobs should be good jobs with livable wages and benefits.

And we know the best way to raise wages, close wage gaps and fight discrimination on the job is with a union card.

It’s still true. A woman’s place is in her union. And in her union’s leadership. And in elected office. At all tables of power—everywhere decisions are made.

In America—long before women had the right to vote—women organized unions.

Many were young, immigrants, poor, discriminated against.

More than twenty-thousand joined the “Bread and Roses” strike in 1912—coming together for their rights as workers—and for their right to dignity on the job, as women.

Generation after generation, women have organized for better lives.

But our right to organize has been obliterated over decades of attacks by the wealthy and powerful.

That’s why we need to pass the PRO Act and the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act so the millions of women who want to join a union can, without fear, without retaliation. Without having to risk getting fired.

I’d like to take a moment and tell you the story of our incredible union sister with ATU, Latonya Robinson.

Latonya is a proud bus operator for DASH in Alexandria, Virginia.

In 2018, DASH was the last non-union transportation system in the D.C. area.

At the time, two of every three DASH operators were working overtime to pay the bills. And one in every three had to work a second job to get by.

Despite these tough conditions, management threatened to cut the end-of-the-year bonus–a bonus working families relied on for the holiday season.

Latonya and her co-workers were done. Fed up. Fired up. And they were going to do something about it.

So they organized—and voted 97-13 to join ATU Local 689.

Latonya was on the front edge of leadership during the organizing drive. coordinating the collection of the union cards, observing the vote and providing the support and strength the members needed.

Two weeks later—guess what happened: She was fired—for a phony, made-up infraction.

She told me she felt blindsided. Embarrassed. And that she wouldn’t wish the feeling on anyone.

But the whole time, the union had her back. They formed a petition, found her a temporary job, and filed an unfair labor practice complaint.

There’s a happy ending, and I’ll tell it to you in her words.

To quote Latonya:

“They did not forget me. They did not give up. And they got me my job back.”

And when we pass the PRO Act, employers like DASH will be fined for the very first time. If you break the law, it is time for you to pay the price.

No one—no one—should ever have to risk losing their job for sticking up for safe working conditions. For better pay. For a collective voice on the job.

Latonya told me—during the organizing drive, and throughout the relentless union-busting and intimidation—she kept her favorite phrase close to her: “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.”

I don’t think there’s a better phrase to describe her bravery, and the bravery of all of us in CLUW.

Union siblings—working women—around the country are Making. The. Difference.

This week, the members of IATSE, the film and television production workers who make Hollywood happen, authorized a nationwide strike for the first time in its 128-year history.

And the vote was nearly unanimous: Nearly 99 percent of members voted Yes—99 percent!

This is what solidarity looks like. This is the power of collective voice.

IATSE members—including its countless barrier-breaking union women—are speaking loud and clear: Enough is enough. The long and unpredictable hours, the insufficient pay, the toxic culture has got to go.

Whether at the bargaining table or on the picket line, we’ve got their backs. No contract, no shows.

And if collective voice is not enough to yield a fair contract, we need to stand together in collective action.

Last month we felt the power of withholding our labor. BCTGM members—at Nabisco factories and warehouses across the country—stood together on the picket line for a fair contract—and WON!

And this week, 1,400 courageous BCTGM members at Kellogg’s cereal production plants walked off the job for better working conditions.

These are workers who—for more than a year throughout the pandemic—worked long, hard hours, day in and day out—to produce Kellogg’s products for American families.

How did Kellogg respond? By slashing holiday and vacation pay, retirement benefits, quality health care—and threatening to gut communities by moving production and jobs overseas. All while raking in record profits.

Working people are saying: Enough. Is. Enough.

We’re seeing such an incredible wave of collective action, we should call this month Striketober.

People are fed up. This is our time.

Because there is power in uplifting wins for union women. I also have to share: Last week, National Public Radio’s union with SAG-AFTRA, called “We Make NPR,” announced an agreement on a new nationwide contract.

Thanks to relentless collective action, 521 journalists, editors, producers, designers and more, won twenty weeks of fully paid parental leave—and 26 weeks of job protection for leave taken for the birth, adoption, foster or other placement of a child.

And speaking of collective action, in September we welcomed a new affiliate to the AFL-CIO: The National Women’s Soccer League Players Association.

I can’t begin to tell you how incredible these players are.

Last weekend, they said no more—and refused to play games until the league assured them that those who perpetuated systemic abuse, harassment and assault were held accountable.

And last night, I witnessed the power of collective voice first hand when I was there with the Portland Thorns players as they stopped play at the sixth minute during their game. They played on their terms, returning to the field after the complicit CEOs, commissioners and coaches resigned or were fired.

Real change. It’s just the beginning of fixing a broken system that abused workers. And we will be with them every step of the way on this historic endeavor.

This is how we build a bold, dynamic and inclusive labor movement—and CLUW will lead the way.

So every working woman—from all corners of our diverse, incredibly talented workforce—can know the life-changing power of a union, and that collective voice, both at the workplace and the ballot box.

We can do it, sisters. We have the vision. We will cast the votes. And it’s on to victory—to keep breaking barriers and glass ceilings.

Thank you so much everyone. Let's have a wonderful convention!