Speech | Future of Work

Shuler: Innovation Should Empower Workers and Expand Opportunity

Las Vegas

AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler's remarks as prepared for the 4th Annual Labor Innovation and Technology Summit at the Consumer Electronics Show.

Good afternoon, everyone. 

Thank you to our partners, SAG-AFTRA, UNITE HERE, AFT and the AFL-CIO Technology Institute for bringing us together and bringing worker voices to the big show across town. 

And it’s quite a show. Technology is shaping every sector of the economy – and it’s all on display in the Vegas convention center promising a future of ease and efficiency and progress.  

But let’s face it – all that gloss comes at a price.  Corporate America and its investors think they should decide our future for us. And it’s a future driven by profits – not workers, not community.

We believe in a future where innovation is used to make jobs safer and smarter, to upskill not deskill workers, to create opportunity for those at the margins through an equitable economy.  And we know we can only get there if we – if working people and unions – are driving those changes. 

Workers need to have a voice when it comes to decisions about technology.  No one knows our industries, our public sector and our jobs better than we do. No one has better insight into which innovations and inventions will make jobs better, safer and smarter and which will put people – from workers to customers – in jeopardy. 

Unions have always helped workers navigate the shifting sands of industry and our public sector. We do that at a local union level but also as a movement — advancing democratic values in the workplace and communities and giving workers a voice on decisions that will shape their lives and impact their families. 

And today is an important day to mention democracy – two years ago we saw democracy under direct attack, and were reminded that we cannot take our democracy, or our democratic values, for granted. 

The conversations we are having this afternoon about technology, are in direct relationship with this question of who decides our fate – our future. 

How do we bring workers' voices, perspectives, and power into the technology decisions that will shape our workplaces, our economy, and our society? How do we ensure a future of fairness and equity?

Answering those questions is fundamental work for unions. And it is critical that we see this as a fight for a democratic future that works for all of us. 

And there are lots of opportunities to make choices that create that future.  

We all know technology doesn’t fall from the sky.  

Since World War II massive amounts of public investment have gone into developing innovations between government, universities and businesses – with workers usually left out. In this moment of great technological innovation and investment – we’re going to change that. 

We’re going to make sure that the investments in new industries and technologies coming out of the CHIPS and Science, infrastructure and energy bills are going to empower working people, create good union jobs, and expand economic opportunity in every community. 

We are already working on flexing that muscle and getting workers in the room. We’re developing policy reforms and forging deep relationships with universities that are helping us to not just get workers in the lab but also to understand emerging tech so that we can understand technology trends – promises and challenge – and the leverage the future workers deserve.  

The labor movement has been evolving and helping workers navigate technological change for more than a century – so we know how to do this. But the stakes have never been higher, so we need to take everything we know and share it. Unions are driving their own innovations and strategies every day. Training the workforce for tomorrow.

And it will take work and collaboration to get there. Our unions and the AFL-CIO Technology Institute are already paving the way forward and building a fair and equitable future – together.

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