Speech | Infrastructure

Shuler: Infrastructure Should Be a Priority

Washington, D.C.

Sisters and brothers, good morning!

Sean McGarvey, thank you for your leadership. It has been incredible to watch you bring such clear direction and laser focus to the building trades agenda.

And, to my fellow Secretary-Treasurer, Brent Booker, thank you for your camaraderie and friendship in the trenches...as well as to ALL the Building Trades General Board of Presidents, for your vision and dedication to our movement. We are in good hands.

I’m thrilled to be here today, and I bring greetings from the 12.5 million working people of the AFL-CIO, who are standing with me in spirit on this stage, fighting the fights and celebrating the victories alongside you.

And, there’s no better example of the fight than the recent battle with Related Companies at Hudson Yards and the Count Me In campaign. It was a show of resolve and activism we haven’t seen in a long time. And, we can’t thank the New York City Building Trades and Gary LaBarbara enough for their phenomenal leadership.

I also want to say hello to our Canadian sisters and brothers and celebrate the new Director of Canada’s Building Trades Unions, Arlene Dunn. I’m always excited to see union sisters in top leadership positions, and I’m looking forward to working with you in your new role.

Sisters and brothers, I’m a proud IBEW member. Any IBEW leaders out there today?

Travelers in our union sometimes joke that IBEW stands for “I’ve Been Every Where.” And, these past few years, it’s really felt that way; from Portland to Poughkeepsie to Puerto Rico and everywhere in between.

As I travel the country, I’m excited to see that construction employment is still growing and creating good, middle-class union jobs—jobs that allow you to provide for your family and live with dignity.

But, I also meet far too many hard-working women and men struggling to keep up. They’re worried about paying the bills. They’re worried about how technology will impact their jobs in the future, and whether they’ll still have good pay and benefits with the low road, low wage standards they see creeping in all around them.

More and more, they see America as a place where the rich get richer and the rest of us get by.

And for the 9 in 10 workers not yet in unions, that fear is even more urgent.

They simply do not have access to the kind of quality jobs that your members bargain for every day.

Here’s the thing: It doesn’t have to be this way.

Economic insecurity is not inevitable. It’s a policy choice. We can choose different policies.

And, I think it’s time for a change. Don’t you?

One of the greatest antidotes to inequality is investment.

So, let’s invest. And let’s start with our infrastructure.

We should be spending our tax dollars on policies that benefit the middle class, fix our roads and bridges, and put the hard-working women and men of the Building Trades to work on job sites in every community across the country!

If we keep current pace and sit on our hands, it will take 80 years to repair all of the structurally deficient bridges in the United States.

80 years. And, that’s JUST bridges!

Can you imagine Japan or Germany moving that slowly?

Anyone staying in Virginia this week?

Well, one of the bridges to cross from Virginia to D.C. is called the Memorial Bridge. It’s the one right behind the Lincoln Memorial.

Did you know that bridge has been deemed “structurally deficient”?

Just think of the volume of people crossing that bridge coming in and out of the city each day.

Thankfully, the Memorial Bridge is being completely redone by the skilled-craft professionals of the Baltimore-DC Building Trades, but that isn’t always the case.

Ask the families of those who lost loved ones in Minneapolis. And just a few weeks ago, another overpass collapsed in Tennessee. Fortunately, no one was seriously injured, but the point is that it never should have happened in the first place.

Our safety isn’t the only issue at hand. Our future competitiveness is on the line, too.

If we can’t fix a bridge in one of the richest regions in the country until it’s practically crumbling down—a bridge that everyone from members of Congress to CEOs to the President of the United States travels across—how can we connect America to the world?

That’s why business and labor are united in support of a strong infrastructure investment package.

Congress supports infrastructure. President Trump calls himself the “builder president.” So get in a room and get the job done!

Aren’t you sick of waiting, sisters and brothers? I am!

Because this shouldn’t be a partisan issue.

We know that our states and cities are doing the best they can to fix issues when they pop up. They’re moving money around in budgets and creating bond measures to fund new schools and construction projects. They’re dealing with bad roads with whatever money they can scrounge up and straining to keep public transit systems functioning.

They’re making this a priority even when it’s really difficult.

But, these fixes are like slapping a band-aid over a gushing wound. It’s going to keep re-opening without a permanent solution.

Bottom line: It’s time for the federal government to step up and lead.

So, when you go up to the Hill this week, this is the time to push your elected officials and demand that infrastructure be their top priority. Ask them to finally get this done for the American people.

It’s time to turn campaign promises into more union construction jobs.

Building our infrastructure will also help build our labor movement. More dollars available for construction and creating jobs means more training and new people coming into our trades.

Did you know the labor movement is the second largest provider of worker training in the U.S. behind the military?

That’s our best-kept secret. But it shouldn’t be! Not when millions of families are burdened with the costs of college and going into debt, only to see their child struggle to climb the economic ladder upon graduation.

We need to let more people know that there is an earn while you learn model. It’s called an apprenticeship program. And afterward, there’s a good job waiting for you, and more importantly, a career filled with dignity and opportunity and advancement.

Everyone is talking about workforce development and training like it’s something new. But, the Building Trades have been training working people for more than 100 years. And it works!

Look at the new Pipefitters state-of-the-art training center outside Boston. It just opened last week, so, this is truly a brand new facility — ready to offer fantastic careers to workers in the region.

Investment in training and education is an incredible way to show our value and relevance to the broader public as well. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen people who are anti-union change their minds when they see what we can do and how it impacts people’s lives.

Especially women in the trades.

I've seen the cutting-edge strategies some of our unions are instituting to recruit and retain more women. And, the work Eric Dean and the Ironworkers’ leadership, and my friend Vicki O’Leary, did to usher in the first paid maternity leave policy in North America last year was nothing short of inspiring.

I’m so excited that the UA is leading on this as well, and I strongly encourage all of our unions to take this on. Because the bottom line is that we need more women in the trades and these are the policies that will show women that our unions are for them.

Sisters and brothers, creating a diverse, highly-skilled workforce is not just good for us. It builds value for and trust with our partner employers.

I recently spoke at a memorial service for my friend and mentor, former IBEW International President Ed Hill. And, I know Sean was honored to speak there as well.

Ed was the visionary behind the IBEW’s Code of Excellence, which most of you know, was an initiative to demonstrate the skills, value and professionalism of union members to employers, customers and communities. And, it’s known building trades-wide as “Value on Display Everyday.” It has changed the entire script and gotten us on jobs that were untouchable in the past.

Building strong partnerships—both public and private—are crucial, and the Building Trades can show the entire labor movement the way on that.

Look no further than our sisters and brothers in San Diego, who just won a $3 billion Project Labor Agreement (PLA) with the Airport Authority.

Pretty impressive, right?

These types of partnerships are proof that—at a time when our country is deeply divided—we can still come together to create and sustain good jobs, train workers for the future and win a stronger, more prosperous America.

An America of equality and opportunity and hope. An America of unions. An America that builds.

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

Thank you for having me today. Now, get up there on Capitol Hill and show those elected officials the way, and let’s get to work!


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