Shuler: This Could Be the Most Unifying Moment in Labor History

Washington, D.C.

AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler delivered the following remarks after her election:

I recognize both the honor and the responsibility I now have as president. We never thought we’d be here, through a pandemic, so many tragedies...and the sudden loss of Rich. 

We didn’t want this milestone to happen this way. But through your resilience and dedication to our movement...you’ve just elected the most diverse leadership team in our history. 

Keyword...team...Fred (Redmond), Tefere (Gebre), me...and all of you. This is just the very beginning of a longer, ongoing discussion about change and the future. 

We’re going to build a modern labor movement to meet this extraordinary moment. People are hurting and scared...there aren’t enough good, sustainable jobs...the middle class has been hollowed out...COVID-19 has amplified long-standing structural inequity... our systems are broken...the climate crisis is accelerating...technology is changing how work is done...but we want working people to know they can find hope with us. 

I believe in my bones...that the labor movement is the single most powerful force for progress and that this is a moment for us to lead societal transformations; to leverage our power to bring women and people of color from the margins to the center...at work, in our unions and in our economy; and to be the center of gravity for incubating new ideas that will unleash unprecedented union growth. 

We have everything lined up… with a pro-worker administration and Congress...the public is on our side...and workers all across the country are standing up and taking risks. This is our chance...we will meet this moment as one united federation. 

In the coming months, we will hone our strategy, sharpen our focus and deepen our capacity. 

One thing I’d like to make crystal clear: Affiliate engagement will guide my presidency. It isn’t an afterthought. I will seek your guidance and input from the beginning...and at every step...in decision making, building strategy and how we execute.

We have a lot of opportunities...but we don’t want to be too diffuse, that dilutes our effectiveness...instead, we need to unite around a set of priorities, go after them and be disciplined in our approach. Let’s identify and scale what works. And let’s be honest about what doesn’t. I’m excited to have those conversations with you. 

Because we are at an inflection point...we’re building a bridge...between our incredible history, our time-honored traditions...and a bold, cutting-edge future.

I want every working person in every kind of job...to see they can have a place in our movement. We’re not a bunch of smoke filled back rooms. We’re open. We’re transparent. 

We welcome Gen Z and millennials in the streets and in the halls of power...organizing at the grassroots...AND working to advance policy in D.C and state houses across the country.

It’s not an either-or scenario. We can...and will...walk AND chew gum at the same time. 

I’ve been proud to stand with you as we’ve won national elections and made progress on our Workers First Agenda. Pension relief. Health care. And we will keep pushing for infrastructure, voting rights and labor law reform. 

Everything we do will be in service to organizing and union growth. And on that front...you've heard me talk about Action Builder, a digital organizing tool...built in house from the ground-up. We didn’t just buy it off a shelf and say here, use this. We built it with affiliate unions. And it’s democratizing organizing...making it more accessible for people historically left-out on the sidelines.

My point is this: affiliate priorities are federation priorities. And together we are going to be that center of gravity for incubating new ideas. 

I’d like this council to think of itself as an Innovation Committee—and I ask you to bring your experience, diverse perspectives and ideas to this table...to try new things to catalyze breakthrough union growth— and not be worried about whether we fail. It’s okay to make mistakes—mistakes mean we’re getting out there and doing something different. 

Because labor can bring America together...our movement is where so many walks of life and issues converge.

There’s no doubt about our direction, we’re moving forward, to a future defined by and for working people. The path we’re paving is wide and accessible—everyone included, no one left behind

Our power to get there depends on moving as one...on our unity. And this could be the most unifying moment in labor history. 

That’s up to every person here around our table. And I am so thrilled Fred (Redmond), to have you on this team. 

You've earned the respect of this entire movement, taking on tough challenges, from racial justice to organizing, building consensus every step of the way. Thank you for taking on this new role; you will be a great secretary-treasurer and a tremendous partner for Tefere (Gebre) and me as we lead the AFL-CIO forward. 

Thank you again to this Executive Council for the honor of serving as your 6th president…I stand on the shoulders of those who came before me, and look forward to building the future together. Let's get to work!