Speech | Infrastructure

Shuler to IBB: Unions Will Help Us Build a Better Future

Washington, D.C.

AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler's remarks as prepared for delivery at the IBB's 52nd Annual Legislative Education Action Program:

Thank you for that kind introduction, Warren. You’ve been not only a true leader for the Boilermakers, but a thought leader on our Executive Council at the AFL-CIO. Not to mention a true friend and brother—I appreciate you so much.

Good morning, everyone. I’m so excited to be here with you this morning and to welcome you to Washington! Your legislative conference is happening just at the right time! And as you know, DC can be quite a circus—most of you coming from out of town are like “I’m so glad I don’t live here.”

But luckily you have an incredible leadership team to help us make sense of it all—of course, Warren, but I’m talking about President [Newton] Jones, Secretary-Treasurer [William] Creeden, International Vice President John Fultz and International Vice President Lawrence McManamon. But most importantly we have all of you here to wake all those people up on Capitol Hill, and bring some reality into the conversation and the voices of your members in your home states.

And what an exciting moment it is for our movement across the country!

We have one of the most pro-union administrations in history. We have a union leader—a building tradesman—as Secretary of Labor. And we have a President who is putting working people at the center of his policies, his plans for the recovery and for the future.

The bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act—which is already helping us create millions of good union jobs to fix our roads and bridges, our ports and airports, our railroads and so much more. Every one of those new jobs is a chance for us to grow our movement.

But it’s on us to get out there at the community level and recruit that new talent as these jobs come online. Especially the communities of color and women who might not think infrastructure jobs are for them—we need to change that perception. Talk to the kid you pass by and reach out a hand to the next generation. Let’s show them what the union difference means.

Because these projects are going to have PLAs. They are going to create jobs with Davis-Bacon prevailing wages. They are going to show a new generation what it means to turn a job into a career.

Where’s the Pennsylvania contingent? I was just reading about one of your own, a member of Local 1506 named Barry Batz, a metal forger who went to his first day on the job at the Phoenix Forge Group at 19 years old, in 1971, and has been there ever since. That’s 50 years in one job. That’s incredible. What may be even more incredible is that after that first day at the forge Barry went home and proposed to his wife and they are also still going strong 50 years later. Clearly he understands the value of a good union in more ways than one.

We know unions offer people the kind of lifelong career opportunity Barry’s had. We need to make sure that careers like his are available to more people, and extend that path to good-paying, family supporting jobs as far as it can go. Because people across the country are excited about the idea of organizing and using their collective power—and we need to meet them where they are.

We are seeing unprecedented organizing efforts in new areas and new industries. Working people are fighting uphill battles against corporate giants like Starbucks and Amazon—and we are winning.

So now our job is to take this momentum and use it to build a movement that can meet this moment and help us build a future where working people not only drive innovation and progress but also get to benefit from it.

So let’s show our value to new people and in new ways—with our ideas and inventions, with our contracts and our trainings, and with our support in the workplace and our advocacy for our community.

I know you all are headed to the Hill this afternoon, and the conversations you have there with your Senators and Representatives about the future we want to build are going to help us deliver real change for working people. We’re going to help them see that when we look to the future, we need to do it through the workers’ lens.

At the AFL-CIO, we’re doing that through our Workers First Agenda, and it includes so much of what you plan to talk to your members about today.

That starts with the PRO Act, which is a top priority across the labor movement. Unions have almost never been more popular—national polling shows two in three Americans support unions. And, at the AFL-CIO, our own research found that half of the workforce believes that collective action could solve the issues in their workplace.

So, the question is: if organizing is so popular, why aren’t we seeing more of it? And we know the answer. It’s because our outdated labor laws have tipped the scales in employers’ favor.

Employers are getting away with violating workers’ right to organize and collectively bargain because the current law doesn’t hold employers accountable with penalties. Key provisions of the PRO Act would change that, and our senators need to hear about what that would mean for you and for people in your states. They need to hear about how the right to organize is the key to rebuilding our middle class and our economy.

They also need to hear about how the path to a clean energy future goes straight through the labor movement. Reaching our national climate goals will take an all-hands-on-deck, multifaceted approach.

We know that solutions like carbon capture need to play a critical role in meeting those goals—and that is supported by the scientists. Preserving existing nuclear plants and building advanced nuclear plants will be critical. Offshore wind is also a big deal, and we need more U.S.-built vessels for that industry. Hydrogen for power plants. These will all create jobs for boilermakers.

And as more new energy industries and technologies come on line, those companies are going to need the best talent available to build them—and that’s you all, so let’s keep working to make sure clean energy jobs will be good, union jobs from day one. We can build a future where we create all kinds of energy here in the US and do it with high labor and environmental standards.

Building and making more here in America is critical to our national economy and our national security. That’s why it’s so important that the House and Senate come together on the bipartisan Innovation Act and include rules for fair trade that help us keep jobs in America.

Unions are going to help us build a better future—just as they always have. That future starts with you—all of you in this room. Boilermakers helped us connect the global market through the Panama Canal, win two world wars and go to space. And I know that all of you are going to keep that tradition alive and keep bringing us to new heights.

Together, we’ll keep advocating with policies and picket lines and every other tool we have. And we’ll keep fighting until we make high-road, high-wage jobs available to every worker in every community.

Our members and working people across the country are fed up and fired up. Let’s show them that the labor movement has their back.

Let’s keep our foot on the gas.

And let’s build an economy that works for working people. Everyone included, no one left behind.

I can’t wait to see where we go from here.

Thank you.


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