Speech | Labor Law · Civil Rights

Shuler: Labor and Faith a Powerful Force for Progress

Herndon, VA

AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler delivered the following remarks at Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church:

Thank you so much Reverend, Dr. Donaldson. I deeply appreciate that warm welcome...and I’m grateful to you and First Lady (Kimberly) Donaldson. Congratulations on your fifth year of Pastoring here at Mount Pleasant. And Congratulations on 155 years of service and social engagement through the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church family...what a milestone.

I am so excited to be here. I’m Liz Shuler, president of the AFL-CIO. We are 56 unions with 12.5 million people working in jobs all across our economy...from nurses to bus drivers…plumbers and professional football players…and some of those union members may even be among us today.  

I’m here...the day before Labor Day...to talk about a shared commitment to justice for working people. Through the worst public health crisis in a century…the worst economy since the Great Depression…attacks on voting rights and democracy...working people stepped up. We are still delivering, feeding, teaching, care-giving, cleaning, building, rescuing, serving and in so many ways, lifting up our communities. And every working person should have access to the life-changing power of a good, sustainable union job.

We want decision-makers and leaders to learn from the Baptist social teaching on the role of trade unions...that workers have the right to organize by a free and democratic process. Working people all across our country are choosing to stand together in unions to improve workplaces and working conditions…because we care about each other...about the work we do and the people we serve. 

To quote scripture, from First Thessalonians, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” That’s what a union does. And together, the labor movement and our faith partners are the most powerful forces for progress in the United States...not just for union members...for everyone.  Industry by industry...sector by sector...in factories, mines and mills…we challenged the inhumane pace of production. We created safety standards. We transformed grim, dangerous work into good, sustainable union jobs. The pay, benefits and security of a good, union job are life-changing. And the best way to close wage gaps and fight discrimination at work is with a union card.

That’s what we celebrate on Labor Day: The contributions of working people to American prosperity. And the innovations from the labor movement...like the 8 hour workday and the weekend and Labor Day itself...that raise the standards for everyoneBecause this isn’t just about unions. It’s about fairness...it’s about the fundamental economic power of working people in the United States. It’s about the fundamental human right that all people are treated with dignity and respect in the workplace. It’s about progress...like raising the federal minimum wage from the pathetic, current $7.25 to $15. If we did, it would be a raise for 40% of Black women. It’s about the entire community...work connects all of us...and good, union jobs means support for local schools, businesses, and opportunities. 

Together...we leverage the power of our movement to raise standards for all.  And right now...the middle has been hollowed-out...inequality is record high. Wages are stagnant. CEOs are earning 299 times the average worker. People are working two, three jobs when one job should be enough. We are building a modern labor movement that is the counterforce to skyrocketing inequality...to transform low-wage, unreliable jobs into good, sustainable union jobs.  

But with the labor laws broken like they are...today in America, it’s easier for a corporation to stop a union than it is for a worker to form one. That’s why we need the PRO Act, a bill in Congress that will remove barriers...like the fear of getting fired when we stand together with our co-workers and try to organize a union. We are building on the foundation of our movement’s history toward a bold, inclusive future...to take on issues like fairness...social and economic justice...and income inequality.  The voices of people of faith were...are...and will always be critical in the ongoing march for progress. Labor Day calls us to recommit ourselves to working together in partnership. 

Thank you so much and Happy Labor Day. 

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