Speech | Infrastructure

Shuler to Kentucky: American Innovation Is Union-Made

Good morning Kentucky Labor! 

I’m excited to be with you—I wish I could be there in person—but I’m glad that at least I can be in the room with you virtually. 

I just want to thank Bill (Londrigan) for his leadership—Bill, you’ve done an incredible job keeping the Kentucky labor movement focused and moving forward through challenging times, and you and Jeff (Wiggins), Liles (Taylor)—the entire team—thank you for your hard work and dedication.

And I was able to listen in to those beautiful commemorations of John Sweeney and Rich Trumka—thank you so much for those.

We will never, ever forget them, their contributions, and all the members who've died through this past year and a half.

We’ve been through so much together, as a labor movement—as a country—so thank you for your resilience, support and solidarity.

As we continue to work through our grief and weather the challenges of this ongoing pandemic...we are rising to meet this moment, and organize for the future.

This is our time to be bold, take risks, and grow.

Everything is lined up:

We have the Biden administration and pro-worker champions like Congressman Yarmuth delivering for working people—with this infrastructure package that just passed—it’s what we’ve been fighting for for decades.

And we have working people out there, standing up, hungry for structural change. The labor movement is leading a national reckoning—and the public is with us. Approval ratings are at a 50 year high.

People are speaking out and taking risks at work and in the streets—across party lines—nearly 75 percent of voters support the strikes—Democrats AND Republicans agree people should be able to join together to win their fair share.

Like UFCW Local 23-D distillery workers at Heaven Hill, who were on the picket lines for six weeks—and through their tenacity and solidarity, earned a better contract. Even Chipotle workers in Lexington walked out because of unfair conditions.

My brother, UMWA president Cecil (Roberts) is here—but just a few days ago, he was arrested on Wall Street.

That’s because miners at Warrior Met in Alabama have sacrificed, made concessions, but the company’s Wall Street hedge fund owners won’t negotiate a fair contract. Those Miners have been on strike since April.

Cecil will tell you more about it, but I want to recognize the tremendous personal sacrifice every working person on strike right now in this country is making.

No one wants to go on strike. We hold the line because this pandemic has changed us—we believe in a future where every working person has access to a good, union job—and we are never, ever going back to how it was.

It’s been a long time coming.

A couple years ago, CWA went on strike against AT&T across the South, in Kentucky and 8 other states to win a fair contract.

Teachers in Kentucky stood up against attacks on pensions and were facing big budget cuts.

The anti-union former governor called those educators “selfish” and “thugs.”

Well. The entire Kentucky labor movement organized. Door knocked. Phone banked. Conversation after conversion.

And now, we call Jacqueline Coleman—an educator, our sister, member of the Kentucky Education Association—Madam Lieutenant Governor.

We call Governor Andy Beshear Kentucky’s pro-worker champion.

His leadership is such a bright spot for Kentucky’s working families.

When COVID hit, he enacted worker safety protections—made sure low-income students had resources to learn—and kept families who were facing the threat of eviction safe in their homes.

And when working people were looking for help and hope, Kentucky labor stepped up.

You helped unemployed workers navigate the unemployment insurance system—regardless if they were union members or not.

And when those life-saving benefits were about to expire, you showed up outside Mitch McConnell’s office and made him hear your support for the HEROES Act loud and clear.

And you demanded a life-line for working people with the American Rescue Plan.

Congressman John Yarmuth’s name is at the top of that transformative piece of legislation.

He’s probably not on yet, but Representative Yarmuth—thank you. You’ve been a tireless champion for the working people of Kentucky.

We’re going to miss you when you retire next year—but the work you’ve done to pass historic relief—and now, game-changing investments—will have an impact not just now but for generations to come.

This bipartisan Infrastructure bill that was just passed on Friday is a huge victory for working people.

The Infrastructure Report Card gave Kentucky infrastructure a C- (the country as a whole is also a C-). Because of decades of neglect and decline. Now, finally, we can get these long-overdue investments moving at the community level, so we can thrive. And compete.

Fixing lead pipes so we can have clean water. Building out high-speed internet.

Roads and bridges. Public transit.

Investment in passenger rail. Airport upgrades.

Electric Vehicle charging stations. Upgrading our electricity grid. And climate resilience.

All of it means jobs—across industries. For the building trades. Our transportation unions. And jobs throughout the manufacturing supply chain.

We’re going to make sure these investments aren’t just creating any jobs…but GOOD, union jobs in Kentucky.

It’s exciting to finally have a win under our belts. And we are on the precipice of passing the Build Back Better Act in what they call reconciliation.

This will be the most transformative investment in our social infrastructure in generations—because just like roads and bridges, care—child care, elder care, care for the differently able—that’s critical infrastructure people need to be able to go to work.

The pandemic sidelined millions of people from the workforce—overwhelmingly women—to shoulder care responsibilities.

And right now, one in four women say they can’t go back to work because they still don’t have childcare.

We also want to make sure care jobs are GOOD jobs with family sustaining wages and benefits.

Another reason the Build Back Better Act is going to be a game changer, is it includes a key piece of the PRO Act. First-of-their-kind penalties for employers who violate our right to organize. So that if they break the law, there will be REAL consequences.

If we are going to unleash unprecedented organizing, we need the PRO Act—and a national public sector PRO Act right alongside it—to override Right to Work in Kentucky.

We want to make sure the jobs now—and jobs on the horizon in new industries—will be good, union jobs.

So all that money being invested in the clean energy future and American innovation are union-made.

That includes EV battery plants coming to Kentucky.

And we’re going to keep working every day to make sure the transition leaves no community behind.

We’re going to keep pressing for full funding of investments like wage replacement, a bridge to pension, and job training programs that give people the choice to stay and prosper in their neighborhoods.

That’s what solidarity is about. Taking care of each other now, and shaping the future of work.

This is the inflection point. The moment we look back on 10, 20, 30 years from now, where we decided to go all in to build the most dynamic, bold and inclusive labor movement we’ve ever seen.

So are you ready to organize like never before?

Show them the labor movement is bold. Innovative. And growing for the future. We pave the path to better working conditions and we improve life for every working person in this country.

So keep it going. Keep up the great work. Thank you and I can’t wait to see where we go from here.

Have a great convention!

Explore the Issue