Speech | Global Worker Rights

Shuler at COP26: We Cannot Leave Workers Behind

AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler delivered the following remarks as prepared at an event on just transition at the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26):

I’m Liz Shuler, president of the AFL-CIO, a federation of 57 national and international unions representing nearly 13 million working people.

We are talking about a “just transition” for working people as we address the climate crisis—but here is the challenge of building a “just transition:”

We’ve never seen one before.

We’ve seen transitions for short-term gain.

We’ve seen transitions that have created enormous wealth for a few, and widespread hardship for working people.

We don’t want to repeat the bad policy choices of the past that left communities stranded.

Free trade, deregulation, outsourcing, precarious work, the rise of the gig economy—you name it—working people have been short-changed.

It can’t be like that in the fight against climate change—the stakes are too high.

The urgency of this moment demands we learn from that past.

No, we haven’t seen a Just Transition before, but we can envision it!

Each person, every place included.

High road, good, union jobs for everyone.

Environmental protection.

Progress for racial justice. Gender equity.

A Just Transition to a sustainable, equitable future means solidarity.

That all working people have a voice.

At work.

In our political processes.

In climate outcomes.

Unions are the vehicle for worker voice. For worker power.

We belong at every table where climate decisions are made.

The Paris Agreement calls for a Just Transition because worker voices—at those tables—demanded it through our unions.

And just a few days ago, the U.S. and many other governments signed a Just Transition pledge—a welcome step that we now need to make real with actions on the ground, not just words on paper.

The values of the ILO in international climate policy, development and finance are more important now than ever.

Without those values, it’s just a transition.

We need a Just Transition—with labor rights and union growth.

No one left behind.

Think about this:

There’s a difference between a coal company and a coal community.

Look at Alabama.

Warrior Met, a company driven by corporate greed, has denied miners a fair share of the value those workers create.

Miners have been on strike since April—7 months.

That injustice and inequity hurts the entire community.

Children and teachers—nurses and social workers.

And before those communities suffer the economic impacts of displacement, they need support.

We applaud President Biden's Interagency working group on coal communities.

Labor is at that table, and it makes a difference.

The AFL-CIO will continue to push for full funding of these investments.

Wage replacement and health care for those laid off.

A bridge to a pension.

Job training programs that give people the choice to stay and prosper in their communities.

We need ongoing social dialogue and stakeholder engagement.

Economic strategies that center on working people.

And we need to guarantee our rights to stand together in trade unions—so we can make sure clean energy jobs are good jobs, with benefits and retirement security.

Work connects all of us.

And every part, every link, every step of the supply and value chains should also include the highest labor standards.

Offshore wind, solar, electric vehicles and more—no exceptions—every clean energy sector—each company—we’re calling on you.

Supply family-supporting union jobs NOW.

We are going to continue to build a broad and inclusive coalition for political momentum.

Connecting marginalized communities, people of color, women, and working people in every industry.

We are growing a bold, inclusive labor movement to meet this moment.

To leverage our power with our governments.

To create more balance in the economy.

To bring people in from the margins of the informal economy.

We can create a fair, sustainable future—through solidarity.

And we are determined to keep raising our voices through our unions.

That’s how we will make the Just Transition a reality.

Thank you.

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