Speech | Gender Equality

Shuler: Ironworkers Are Setting the Standard

AFL-CIO President delivered the following remarks as prepared at the Ironworkers Women's Caucus:

Thank you so much Eric—for being such an inspiration, and for being a change maker—you’re leading and we’re following. And I want to acknowledge the District Council of Southern Ohio and Vicinity, Local 22 and the other Locals that are having viewing parties. If we can’t be together, this is the next best thing. Vicky O’Leary, my shero—thank you for your incredible work you, Kristi and others have done to pivot since the situation in New Orleans changed our plans.

To all the Ironworker Women tuning in virtually: thank you!

This caucus is an incubator for the organizing and activism that’s moving women from the margins to the center in our unions, at work and in the economy.

All across this country women are leading in so many ways.

They’re out in front leading strikes and picket lines. And women are leading behind the scenes in workplaces all across the country.

And we’re being recognized. All the courageous women who received meritorious service awards—congratulations Marty Brock!—and all the tradeswomen heroes award recipients. Such an honor to be here with you and lift up your success!

Since the AFL-CIO is the largest organization of working women in the country—6.5 million and growing—it’s so inspiring to see women claiming their power through our unions.

One of our superpowers is how we connect with each other.

Vicki O'Leary has done some amazing work to launch the Lean In Circles community to help women succeed in the trades.

It’s effective because it enables women to come together (even virtually via Zoom) to share strategies, improve their experiences at work and give them the tools to thrive on the job.

That’s the type of innovation mindset we need.

I see networking and building connections as the real power of this caucus.

5 years ago, Ironworkers made history as the first building trades union to establish paid maternity leave. You set the standard and the example for other trades to follow.

And less than one year ago we elected the most pro-worker administration—perhaps in history—thanks to your early and consistent support of President Biden and Vice President Harris.

And now we’re on the brink of historic investments with the Build Back Better Agenda.

Investments in infrastructure, manufacturing, supply chains and job training.

Roads. Bridges. Waterways. Public transportation. Rural development. Public education.

We want to make sure there are high labor standards on every tax dollar invested in construction with PLAs and Davis Bacon protections; worker perspective and voice in every step of the innovation process as new technology is evolving and shaping our work; and we need labor law reform, called the PRO Act in Congress, to make it easier to organize, so that jobs now—and jobs on the horizon in new industries—will be good, union jobs.

Because we know, unions are the best way to close wage gaps and fight discimination on the job.

There was a study done recently by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, and it shows that women covered by union contracts lost fewer jobs between 2019 and 2020 and the wages of Black women union members increased during that time.

We need the PRO Act to remove barriers—like the fear of getting fired when we stand together with our co-workers and try to organize a union.

The Build Back Better agenda moving through Congress includes a critical piece of the PRO Act—real penalties for employers who violate our rights to organize.

In the past, men filled 9 out of 10 “traditional” infrastructure jobs.

Not this time. Those infrastructure jobs we’re going to create—they are absolutely jobs for women.

As Vice President Harris put it, “Hard hats are unisex.”

That is important for a gender equitable recovery.

So are investments in care—we need to treat it for what it is. Critical infrastructure that makes other jobs possible.

1.8 million women were sidelined from the workforce during the pandemic to shoulder care responsibilities.

This is a women’s issue, and it’s a fundamental economic issue impacting all working people.

Many women remain on the sidelines of the job market.

Others are turning to the gig-economy because, without child care, it’s one of the few accessible options. And corporations know this and exploit “flexibility” to push this unreliable and low-paid work.

And women who do the work in the care economy, overwhelmingly women of color, have long been overlooked and underpaid.

Right now, care workers are quitting, as one worker said recently because “The pay is absolute crap.” No one should have to sacrifice their health in this pandemic for a low wage crappy job that has no pathway to a better future.

Care jobs should be good jobs with livable wages and benefits.

To help women who’ve been sidelined—who want to get out of low-paid gig-work—the labor movement is the gold standard.

Our apprenticeship programs are the bridge to high-growth, high-demand jobs. We put people on the path to the middle class.

And we are laser focused on recruiting women and people of color.

And you’re showing the country that unions are power for women at work—on the frontline—or those who’ve been sidelined—for the rising generation—and for the women who are worried about retirement.

I want every working woman in every kind of job to see they can have a place in our movement.

We are building a bold, innovative and inclusive movement.

We are intersectional and one of the most powerful forces in this country—for racial justice, gender equity, democracy at the ballot box and in our workplaces—by connecting with each other.

Ironworker women: thank you for leading the way. I can’t wait to see where we go from here!


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