Shuler to IUPAT: Using Technology Can Make Jobs Better, Safer, More Efficient

Las Vegas, NV

AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler's as-prepared remarks to the IUPAT Convention:

George, thank you for that kind introduction and your partnership as a fellow Secretary-Treasurer, but also as a friend.

And, Ken, I am inspired by your bold leadership and the groundbreaking work you’re doing as president of the IUPAT. Your entire General Board, leaders, staff and delegates should be very proud of what you’ve accomplished and I’m thrilled to be here and be a part of this incredible convention. 

I’m a proud IBEW member.

As you all know very well, in construction you often have to travel to where the work is, so, the joke was that IBEW stands for “I’ve Been Every Where.” 

It feels that way even today because I travel a lot, which also means that I get to meet and talk to working people all over this country. People who are on the move, speaking out and taking risks like we haven’t seen in a very long time: 

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

  • UFCW members at Stop & Shop grocery stores across New England, striking for better wages and health care. Customers stood with them. Together, they brought the company to its knees! That’s the power of labor and community working together!

  • And, hotel workers, members of UNITE HERE, striking at Marriott and winning raises and better health care and the right to negotiate over how technology impacts their jobs. That’s huge!

We are seeing a spirit of activism and not just among union members. How about: 

  • Amazon workers in Minnesota who went on strike last month on Amazon Prime Day, calling for better working conditions and respect. Those warehouses are modern-day sweatshops!

  • Google workers worldwide staged massive protests last fall, demanding an end to workplace harassment and fairness for all employees—whether they’re full-time or contractors. 

  • And, video game developers are joining together to fight for a voice at work. Developers are working 14-16 hour days with no breaks under insane deadlines. They need a union, too!

As I’ve walked alongside these heroic workers and listened to their stories, I hear some of the same things you’re probably hearing back home: 

  • Paychecks are not going as far as they used to. 

  • Health care costs are skyrocketing and eating up gains at the bargaining table. 

  • The growth in technology is causing fears about the future and what work is going to look like and if jobs are going to be lost to automation.  

  • Corporations are chasing short-term profits and no longer see their workforce as an asset, but instead, a cost to be cut. And that threatens our ability to negotiate good wages and retirement security. 

  • There are dangerous attacks on civil rights, voting rights and women’s rights. Combine that with the hateful rhetoric and growing division and the very soul of our democracy is being threatened. 

It feels like we’ve reached a tipping point. The systems and institutions we’re supposed to rely on aren’t working for us anymore. 

Especially our economy. 

CEO pay is at an all-time high: 287 times what the average worker makes. The wealthiest man in the world, Jeff Bezos, makes in nine seconds what the average Amazon employee makes in a year. 

Let me repeat that: Nine seconds. It’s hard to even imagine! And, Amazon effectively pays zero in federal taxes!

While people like Jeff Bezos get rich, the rest of America struggles to get by. Forty percent of Americans don’t have $400 in the bank for an emergency...40%. And more than 60% of Americans haven’t seen a raise in more than a year. 

Here’s the thing— after all that doom and gloom— the secret is: It doesn’t have to be this way. Economic insecurity is not inevitable. The leaders we elect make policy choices that can benefit more people...the 99%. And, we can choose to do better. But where do we start?


How about we start with investing in rebuilding our country’s infrastructure?

I don’t need to tell you that we should be spending our tax dollars on policies that benefit the middle class, fix our roads and bridges and put the hard-working members of IUPAT on the job in every single community across the country!

This should be a no-brainer. It’s one of the few issues where business and labor agree. And, for years, we’ve heard both Democrats and Republicans all say they support infrastructure investment, too. 

Yet, here we are. Again. Still waiting. Aren’t you sick of waiting, sisters and brothers? 

I am!

Because the livelihoods of working people and the future of our nation’s infrastructure shouldn’t be a partisan issue. Bottom line: It’s time for the federal government to step up and lead on infrastructure.

So, call Congress! Tell them why this issue is so important. While you have them on the line, tell them it’s time to rebuild our country with union labor, Davis-Bacon and project labor agreements.

Building our infrastructure will also help build our labor movement. More dollars available for construction creates jobs and means more opportunities for training as new people come into our movement.

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 the average young person graduating from college has about $30,000 in student loan debt—and can’t find a good-paying job. 

That’s why IUPAT DC 35’s program at Madison Park Technical Vocational High School in Boston is so incredible. The power of partnership brings together the City of Boston, the Boston Public Schools and the union and gets high school students into an apprenticeship readiness program, so when they graduate, they’re already on the pathway into the formal apprenticeship program and have a good-paying career waiting for them afterward. 

These programs are a model for the entire country, and we need more people to know about them. 

And in Philadelphia: A summer immersion program was created for students to learn about the construction industry, especially for those who’ve never even heard of apprenticeships.

We need to do a better job educating the public about apprenticeships. The time is ripe for expanding this successful model into more industries, which is why this administration’s attacks on training and labor standards with these IRAPs MUST be defeated. 

Our registered apprenticeship programs and training centers—like IUPAT’s incredible, state-of-the-art FTI International Training Center outside Washington, D.C.—pump millions of dollars into the economy every year, training some of the best tradeswomen and men in the world.

Our leaders should be doing everything possible to invest in apprenticeships and provide more people with a career full of dignity and opportunity.

IRAPS have no place in construction. Defeating this is crucial to our survival. 

Everyone is doing a great job getting comments into the Department of Labor, but we only have a few more days to up the ante!

Investment in training and education is an incredible way to demonstrate our value and relevance to the broader public as well. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve witnessed people who are anti-union change their minds when they learn everything our movement is doing to lift up workers and communities.

I know Ken is passionate about apprenticeship and training and how it can change people's lives. Especially for women in the trades. He has always boldly fought for equality. 

I’ve heard him tell a story about his early days as a new journeyman and soon-to-be father and mustering up the courage to ask at a meeting, surrounded by men twice his age, why their healthcare policy didn’t include maternity leave? 

He’s leading the way at IUPAT to change the culture throughout the trades with major efforts to recruit a workforce that looks more like the world we live in. IUPAT’s work to push our movement forward on immigration and establish innovative recruitment tools to encourage more women and people of color to join the trades—like District Council 11 and Local Union 195 in Connecticut’s newly formed women’s committee—is exactly where we need to be. It’s crucial for our entire movement’s survival. 

Staying ahead of technology and automation and making it work for us is also crucial. And, IUPAT is a real leader in this arena. 

We know the days of tape measures and string lines are behind us. Now, we’ve got Building Information Modeling (BIM), a 3-D model process, to plan and manage design and construction projects.

And, I understand you’ve rolled out virtual reality training programs like computerized sprayers and lifts, so workers can test the equipment out and train before ever stepping foot on the job site—saving time and money in the process. 

Bottom line: IUPAT is using technology to make jobs better, safer and more efficient. You're showing our entire movement how we can dismantle the myth that unions are outdated or out of touch—all while using cutting edge tools to help us organize and grow. 

This is something the AFL-CIO is working on, too. We’re challenging ourselves to learn and think differently about reaching workers with technology and in entirely new sectors, like tech, to show them the power of a union. 

Their jobs might be different, and their workplace might not be traditional, but they still need a voice and protections like every other working person out there. And, that means a union!

So, this is a moment to be bold and grab our fair share. We are the most powerful voice for working families on the planet! 

That’s what IUPAT has been doing since its beginning, and it’s why you’ve made history along the way: From painting the Capitol Dome to installing the glass exterior of the new Apple headquarters, these are projects to be enormously proud of. 

You are proof that by creating and sustaining good jobs and training workers for the future, we can win a stronger, more prosperous America. 

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 IUPAT leading the way, we’re showing America that when we stand together, we win together. 

Thank you for having me today. Let’s get to work!