Shuler Discusses Strike Wave with Business Writers and Editors

AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler delivered the following remarks as prepared at the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing (SABEW) Future of Work Conference:

Thank you, Dean (Murphy), for organizing this session, and Julia (Love), for that very kind introduction. I appreciate the opportunity to join you at this future of work conference. It’s a critically important topic and I’m looking forward to the conversation.

Many of you have written about the labor market in recent months. And there’s a lot for assignment editors to explore: the pandemic, a change in administrations, our evolving relationship with the office, the Great Resignation, inflation.

But while all these topics have raised new questions and challenges, what working people want remains fundamentally the same: Justice. Fairness. The right to organize, bargain and have our voices heard.

So the title for today’s session is fitting. Workers are demanding more to rejoin the economy.

As we are meeting right now, thousands of workers are on strike for a better deal and a better life.

Coal miners in Alabama.

Nurses and theatre techs in Massachusetts.

Steelworkers and Machinists in West Virginia.

Distillery workers in Kentucky.

Hospital workers in upstate New York.

Ironworkers in Pennsylvania.

Kellogg’s workers in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Nebraska, riding the momentum of their compatriots at Nabisco, who recently went on strike in five cities and won better pay and more job security.

Our newest affiliate, the National Women's Soccer League Players Association, is speaking out against harassment and abuse on the job, and mobilizing for a fair contract.

35,000 workers at Kaiser in California have authorized a strike.

And you may have heard just yesterday, the 60,000 film and television workers who make our favorite shows and movies announced they would walk off the job this coming Monday unless a fair contract is reached that guarantees adequate sleep, meal breaks and living wages.

And early this morning, 10,000 UAW members at John Deere went on strike for dignity and security.

Some have called this Striketober. I call it Exhibit A for why we need to rebalance the scales and put workers back in the center of our economy.

The pandemic laid bare the inequities of our system. Working people refuse to return to crappy jobs that put their health at risk. Essential workers are tired of being thanked one moment and treated as expendable the next.

Working people feel a new sense of power and leverage. They’re looking at work in a different way.

Employers are starting to take notice. Some are raising pay and offering signing bonuses. Others are embracing justice issues to attract talent, focusing on environmental, social and governance, or ESG. You may remember a few years back when the Business Roundtable redefined the purpose of corporation, with a focus on stakeholders, not just shareholders.

But too many businesses remain stubbornly focused on cutting labor costs, even after all that workers have done through this pandemic. And this focus on profits above all else comes at the expense of our economy, our democracy and ironically, their own bottom line and long-term sustainability.

Right now, the United Mine Workers of America are going into their seventh month of strike at Warrior Met Coal in Alabama, and there still hasn’t been significant movement at the bargaining table. Those workers took pay cuts to get the company Walter Energy out from under bankruptcy five years ago—then, a consortium of private equity firms took over and their contract proposal back to the workers today doesn’t even get the pay back to level from five years ago.

As the world economy emerges from the pandemic, Met Coal prices are skyrocketing. Warrior Met stands to make untold millions more in the next several years. It can easily afford a fair contract with its workforce.

Even though Warrior Met stock is up since the beginning of the strike, it is weak compared to its competitors. Warrior Met stock is a bad investment, while the strike continues.

Ending the strike is a win-win. It would help the investors, the workers and the community.

And that’s the headline here. We don’t have a shortage of workers. The real scarcity story is a shortage of safe, good-paying, sustainable jobs.

What are America's employers willing to do about it?

Because workers are organizing for change. Unions are how Americans have always turned bad jobs into good jobs.

My commitment as president of the AFL-CIO is to build a modern labor movement that can meet this moment. A movement that dreams big and takes risks and isn’t afraid to fail.

A movement that is alive and well in Silicon Valley, the American South and all the places workers are trying to claim their share of the American Dream.

A movement that takes a new approach to the enduring values of fairness, dignity and shared prosperity.

A movement that leverages 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 a movement that is ready to get to the negotiating table with employers and work out a fair deal that benefits everyone. Business. Labor. Our communities.

This vision guides everything we do, whether it’s giving workers a voice at Amazon or co-creating technology to empower working people—whether it’s enshrining labor laws for this century by passing the PRO Act and the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act, or whether it’s pushing our elected officials to get President Biden’s Build Back Better jobs bills across the finish line.

We have everything lined up. A pro-worker administration and Congress. 68 percent support for unions—including 77 percent among young people—the highest marks since 1965. And workers all across the country standing up, speaking out and taking risks.

So this is our moment. We have a window. A historic opportunity. And we cannot and will not let it pass us by.

Thank you. I look forward to your questions.