Speech | Labor Law · Better Pay and Benefits · Trade · Future of Work

Shuler: Iowa Labor Inspires the Nation

AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler delivered the following remarks at the Iowa AFL-CIO Convention: 

Hello, Iowa labor. Thank you Charlie [Wishman] and to you Pete [Hird], and all the activists and leaders in the Iowa labor movement. I was hoping to be there in person with you allI know Stuart Appelbaum is there with youbut unfortunately I’m on Zoom instead.

Even remotely, it’s good to be with you. And just let me say thank you all for keeping our national AFL-CIO in your thoughts. And for all the supportive messages and love you’ve shared.

We are all still grieving the loss of Rich Trumka. I take comfort in the fact his final days were spent with the people he loved the most, fishing and enjoying the outdoors, in his beloved home state of Pennsylvania. We will be planning a public memorial service in the coming months and because of the pandemic, we also never had the chance to honor the late John Sweeney so we are in consultation with both of their families to honor them in the most thoughtful and safe way.

You know that Rich was absolutely laser focused on the PRO Act because he wanted every working person, on every job, to have the power and support of a union. So it’s a fitting tribute that our friends in Congress are going to rename it the Richard L. Trumka Protecting the Right to Organize Act.  

Iowa labor, we’re going to build on the amazing work you did over the last few months when you engaged state legislators and showed up at Senator Ernst’s offices and Senator Grassley’s offices in the Quad Cities, in Western Iowa, and in Des Moines. We’re going to keep going, we are going to pass it and Rich’s memory will be there with every step forward. 

Please, join me now in a moment of silence for Rich.

[A moment of silence is observed.]

Thank you.

I don’t need to tell you, the entire country focuses on Iowa every four years. And our entire movement sees and feels the work Iowa labor does, day in and day out. You called out Iowa OSHA by filing with the federal “Complaints About State Program Administration” because Iowa OSHA wasn’t following its own procedures or conducting inspections, making it difficult for workers to file complaints. Despite the barriers you filed an OSHA complaint against the state legislature for not protecting workers, not enforcing social distancing, not requiring employees to report positive results and not keeping proper records of workplace injuries.

During the 2021 legislative session you stopped big unemployment cuts. And you’re up against a trifecta within the state that’s growing more partisan and anti-worker, and less democratic. But by showing up, raising our voices, making our presence visible and loud, you are strengthening our movement. And we are such a powerful and uniting force for good, all across this country.

Look at what you're doing in Council Bluffs where you collected back-to-school donations and the IAFF hosted a blood drive with the Red Cross at their hall. There’s the Dubuque Area Labor Harvest, meeting an increased demand to provide food assistance, distributing boxes to families and making deliveries to folks who can't leave home. Just last Saturday their breakfast served 199 people. That sense of belonging and support of a broader movement of working people who are all pulling in the same direction makes a difference in Iowa, but it’s important to our entire labor family of 56 unions, 12.5 million working people in all sectors of our economy. And the progress we make, together, as one united movement lifts up every working person in this country.

We’re building on our proud traditions and the hard-won progress made by local legends and leaders like my IBEW brother Ken Sagar, Randy Boulton, USW, and Anthony Stephens UPWA. They’ve earned their places in the Labor Hall of Fame. And to the next generation of labor leadersCharlie, Petewe are so grateful for your dedication and taking on this responsibility. Thank you for your leadership, we want to invest in you, in our future. Because this is an inflection point.

And as testament to the resilience of our movement, last Friday the Executive Council elected the most diverse leadership team in history. 
I want to emphasize the word team: Fred Redmond, Tefere [Gebre], me, and all of you. And your theme of this convention is exactly right: Organize. The time is now. 

We have the most pro-worker administration in history, a majority in the U.S. House and Senate. Workers all across the country are standing up, taking risks in the workplace and protesting in the streets. And the public is on our side. They see the progress we’ve made on pension security for millions of retirees. Health care. Child tax credits that are ending food insecurity for millions of children. The labor movement’s power was behind that progress. 

And just yesterday the House passed the $3.5 trillion budget resolution and advanced the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill. Just take a moment and think about that. We are one step closer to the biggest investment in almost 100 years: in infrastructure, manufacturing, supply chains and job training. Roads, bridges and waterways. Public transportation, rural broadband. Clean energy research and climate resilience. A solid foundation for care infrastructure with the first ever federal paid family and medical leave benefit. There's a long overdue path to citizenship. Real penalties to hold employers who violate workers rights accountable and a huge funding increase for labor law enforcement. 

This is our opportunity to create good, sustainable union jobs, revive manufacturing, grow new industries and build back better in towns and local economies all over Iowa. Keyword, better. Better than it is, better than it was. Because you know too well, in the past, bad policy enabled corporations to offshore, manufacturing shut down and left workers in Iowa and so many communities stranded. With deindustrialization and the shift in power from workers to the wealthy there was a loss of union density. In Iowa, we went from 20% in 1990 to about 9% today. And with that decrease in union density, inequality is skyrocketing. 

How do we reverse it? By growing our ranks. American-made industries with American supply-chains with good, sustainable union jobs. Those are key to the 21st Century vision for America’s future. Especially as we build climate change resilience and grow the clean energy future. Iowa is the second leading state for wind powerI think Texas has one up on you for now. And we don’t want to just generate wind power, we should be manufacturing those wind turbines and all of their components right here in the U.S., in Iowa. 

Another part of this is our trade policy, and how we use it to leverage worker power. You remember the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), that’s the game-changing trade model we want to use going forward because it puts workers at the center.  It has powerful labor enforcement tools and with Ambassador Katherine Tai’s leadership as the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, the U.S. is already using it. In May, the Office of the USTR directed Mexico to investigate if workers at a GM facility were denied their rights during a contract ratification. You probably know that Mexico is famous for their Company unions and protection contracts. This was the first time in history that the U.S. proactively initiated labor enforcement in a trade agreement.  

Just last weekwe got resultsthose GM workers voted to reject the sham contract. This is a major step forward for North American auto workers. No more race to the bottom. And a concrete example of how to use our trade policy to benefit workers! We know enforcing labor rights in Mexico is important to workers in Iowa. Because we shouldn’t have to compete with people making three dollars an hour and workers in Mexico shouldn’t be exploited with low wages by these corporations. 

I’m also looking at other ways we can leverage worker power like with the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act. This is a huge federal investment in science and technology research, where we can shore up American supply chains and seed future American industries and manufacturing. We want to make sure those investments translate to good jobs, especially in the supply chain so that manufacturing can grow again as we innovate.

And we have to include worker voices in the research and development process, in deciding how technology is developed, which leads to better decisions about how the technology is used, and of course the jobs that flow from new technology. We don’t want technology to replace manufacturing jobs. We want technology to complement and support the human beings in manufacturing.

I think of this as collective creation; we can co-create with technology. Here’s the bottom line: as we make major national investments in infrastructure, supply chains, manufacturing, science and technology research, they need to work for U.S. To do that, we need the Richard Trumka PRO Act and the public sector PRO Act right alongside it. To make sure jobs now, and on the horizon in those new industries, will be good, union jobs. To make sure the clean energy future, American manufacturing and supply chains are union-made. And to lift up worker voice and ideas so that we benefit from our taxpayer investments. Because this isn’t just about unions. It’s about the fundamental economic power of working people in the United States. And the work you’re doing in Iowa is changing lives. You’re standing up in workplaces and you’re lifting up each other and the communities where we work.

Teachers are caravaning in the streets demanding safe schools. Meat packing workers rallying outside plants to show how critical we are. Postal workers delivering our democracy in record mail-in-ballots. Health care workers demanding PPE. State workers taking on the Capitol to demand safety on the job. Iowa labor, you are inspiring working people to take action, you're showing the country that strong unions mean strong communities, and more unions mean safer workplaces and better opportunities. 

We want those good, sustainable union jobs for everyone. For the first time in years, in 2020, union density in Iowa rose because six-thousand working people in Iowa joined unions. We want to keep that growth trajectory up. Organize, organize, organize. Keep up the great work. The time is now. 

Thank you Iowa labor.

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