Shuler: ILA Makes This Country Move

Hollywood, Florida

The following are AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler's prepared remarks at the 55th Quadrennial Convention of the International Longshoremen's Association: 

President (Harold) Daggett, thank you for the kind introduction, and, of course, for your incredible leadership. And, for recruiting Dennis to our movement. Although, with three proud generations of longshoremen before you, Dennis, you didn’t have much of a choice but to join the family business. And, we’re all so glad you did. Thank you for your work to bring new ideas and strategies to our movement. Thinking outside the box is crucial for us. 

To my fellow Secretary-Treasurer, Stephen (Knott), I’m always glad to be in your company and to learn from you. And, to the entire leadership team of this great union, thank you for having me with you today. 

Sisters and brothers, I loved being in Puerto Rico with you at your convention four years ago, when poor Harold spoke with a hoarse voice for about an hour. Remember that? Well, it’s an honor to be back with you again today!

Talking to folks this morning has been a great reminder that the ILA makes this country move, and we should never take your work for granted!

You prove that even with this pervasive narrative in our country about the virtues of “rugged individualism” and pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, we know our country and our people are stronger when we stand together. No one knows this better than the labor movement, and especially the ILA. 

Jeff Davis wasn’t kidding when he said ILA stands for “I Love America.” I travel a lot for my job, and I get to meet working people all across the country and let me tell you: Nobody is more proudly patriotic than the ILA. It’s simply who you are. It’s in your DNA. And, we’re grateful to you for that!

You’d also be hard-pressed to find another union with a better sense of solidarity and generosity. I saw this firsthand a few years ago after Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.

I specifically remember your work to help in Puerto Rico...stocking two 40-foot containers outside the NYSA-ILA Training Center in New Jersey with generators, batteries, blankets, food...you name it, it was probably in there! I should also mention that these containers were donated by Integrated/C&C Company. Our thanks to them!

But your generosity didn’t stop there. You also raised $200,000 to donate to victims of all the hurricanes. 

That’s real solidarity. That’s what being a union member is all about. It’s not just getting the job done, calling it a day and going home. It’s about caring for our fellow members AND our communities. It’s about making life better, not just for ourselves and our families, but for our friends, colleagues and neighbors. 

President Trumka mentioned yesterday that our popularity is at a nearly 20-year high. And, if you’ve seen the news lately, it’s not hard to figure out why. Workers are speaking out and taking risks like we haven’t seen in years: 

  • Teachers from Arizona to West Virginia walked out for the respect they deserve. 

  • UNITE HERE members at Marriott demanded that “One job should be enough” and won the right to negotiate over how technology impacts their jobs. 

  • And, UFCW members at Stop & Shop grocery stores across New England quickly brought the corporation back to the bargaining table and secured better wages after walking out this spring. 

But, it’s not just union members calling for a fair return on work.

  • You probably heard about the Amazon fulfillment center employees in Minnesota who went on strike on Amazon Prime Day, calling for better working conditions and respect on the job. 

  • Google workers worldwide staged massive protests last fall, demanding an end to workplace harassment. 

  • And, video game developers are joining together to fight for a voice at work.  

When working people organically rise up together and demand fairness, justice and respect,  the labor movement must pay attention.

  • How do we reach these people who see our value and want to join us, but don’t know the next steps?

  • How do we grow unions in emerging industries?

  • And, how do we make workers see our relevancy as the future of work changes?

But too often, when I go to meetings with corporations, government and academia on the future of work, I’m the only labor voice in the room…which is frustrating because let’s face it: There is no future of work without workers!

Working people absolutely should have a voice in bargaining over how technology impacts our jobs—before it’s ever deployed. Because we all know the saying: “If you’re not at the table, then you’re on the menu.”

These are things that I don’t think our movement talks about enough, and frankly, we need to take a page out of the ILA’s playbook—the same guide that helped Harold and his top-drawer team secure a groundbreaking master contract last fall. Kudos on that! 

I’m also really impressed with how Harold and the ILA have handled the impact of technology and automation at the bargaining table—which is exactly how and where it needs to be done. 

This debate is something the AFL-CIO has been squarely involved in since our 2017 convention...when we set out to chart a path forward for the labor movement and ask the big questions:

  • What’s our role in the future workplace, and what do our jobs look like?

  • What does a mutually beneficial and productive labor-management partnership look like in the future? This is also something else we could all learn from you! 

  • And, how do we ensure that the benefits are shared, not just concentrated at the top?

This isn’t a new arena for the labor movement. We’ve historically embraced new technology, innovation and cutting edge advancements, not because we have to, but because we want to help improve people’s lives and create better products and services. At the same time, we’re also clear about what we don’t support: Technology that’s being used as a way to deny workers our rights, harm our jobs, or cast working people aside...without providing a path forward to a better job for the future!

The AFL-CIO Future of Work and Unions Commission is debating this now—and will be releasing our recommendations later this fall about how best to position working people to capture the benefits of technology, and create a dynamic and modern labor movement that gives workers power in the rapidly changing economy.

But, shaping the future of work is only one step. If we want to grow our movement, we need to organize, organize, organize! And achieving that...means reforming our outdated and ineffective labor laws. 

I know President Trumka told you about the PRO Act yesterday, but this is something you’re going to be hearing about a lot. And, for good reason!

This bill is perhaps more important than any other bill in our generation. The PRO Act would protect the right to organize and form a union. I’ll repeat that: The RIGHT to form a union! 

It’s the bill we’ve been waiting for, and we have to do everything in our power to make sure it becomes law. 

So, when you get back home, talk to your friends, neighbors and colleagues about the PRO Act, and then call your members of Congress. This is a big deal. With the PRO Act, we’ve got a real shot at changing the future for working people. 

It will help us fend off the relentless attacks on our rights at work, and it would turn back right to work. And once the PRO Act is signed into law, we’ll have even more momentum to tackle other anti-worker attacks. We’ll stop efforts to gut the Jones Act and defeat the anti-worker, anti-American port protection bills that have no place in our country!

Our future is bright—and the ILA is a big reason why. You’ve shown foresight in preparing workers for automation. You bargained the landmark master contract last fall. And, you take risks as America’s first line of defense at our nation’s ports. This union has always put country above anything else. From port to port, you have made people’s lives better.

That’s the goal our entire movement is working toward. We have a lot of work to do, but I like our chances. Our movement is changing, and with the ILA leading the way, we’re getting stronger, bigger and more popular with the public. We’re showing America that when we stand together, we win together. 

Thank you, and let’s get to work!