Speech | Infrastructure · Better Pay and Benefits

Shuler to LIUNA: We Are Rebuilding North America

Las Vegas

AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler delivered the following remarks as prepared at the LIUNA 120th Anniversary Convention in Las Vegas:

Thank you, Brian [Donohue]. Good morning, everyone! Bonjour to our Canadian members out there. 

It’s great to see everybody bright and early today.

What an honor to celebrate LIUNA’s 120 years, and the incredible leadership of as General President Terry O’Sullivan and General Secretary-Treasurer Armand Sabitoni.

I was fortunate to listen from the back of the room yesterday to your speech Terry— you are a gifted speaker — never mind we were taking bets on how many f-bombs there were going to be — but it captured so well the arc of your career and the wins you and our movement have racked up. I always know that you were smart, but you and Armand got the timing exactly right—you’re moving on at the pinnacle of your careers. You’ve set the union up for many more decades of growth and success and I just want to thank you for being an incredible friend, mentor, leader, and powerful voice for working people these nearly 50 years.

It truly is an honor to be here with you all today.

This is a chance, first and foremost, to celebrate these two incredible leaders and their legacy.

But it’s also an opportunity to talk about change, across the board.

Because we are in a moment not just here at LIUNA. But in our labor movement. In our countries. 

Our federal governments and our industries across North America are about to be rebuilt from the ground up. 

And as Terry has been talking about this…there are huge shifts happening all around us …and we have the best opportunity in a generation to make big progress, right now.

And we can’t blow it. All eyes are on us wondering whether the labor movement is going to step up and seize this moment. Are we going to make the tough decisions and make the change needed to expand and grow? How will we do it?

I think it starts with what Terry and Armand have shown us every day in their leadership, which is: We learn. We take in new information. We recalibrate and evolve with the times. We meet our members where they are. 

But what doesn’t change is our core values.

Terry, Armand, your commitment to the well being and livelihoods of your members is epic. 

You not only represent them,  you lift them up. You’re there when it’s tough or unpopular and I’ve seen you go to bat for your members when the pressure cooker is at full tilt.

It didn’t matter if you were talking to somebody on a job site or the Speaker of the House, you’d tell it like it is and speak truth to power. 

And I know that’s a strong LIUNA tradition that my good friend Brent Booker has and will continue.

Brent, it’s been incredible working with you at NABTU and I admire how you dive in head first to the big challenges. Working creatively to build a national framework for offshore wind, learning from the great example that Mike Sabitoni led in Rhode Island and putting it on steroids. What a fantastic team you’ll be in your new roles together.

As I said upfront …change is all around us…and not just the change here at LIUNA.

Technology is changing the way we work at lightning speed. And our labor movement needs to change with it.

One quick story: Just a few months ago we were out here in Vegas for the CES—it’s the big tech show, where Google and Meta and all the big companies show off all their new tech. Of course no one is talking about how the workers will be affected so we decided to bring a number of our affiliate unions to shake things up.

Some of the things we saw were hard to wrap your head around.

Holographic, AI projections that are going to be customer-facing service workers. Apps that use military technology to track factory workers.

I know we’re seeing it in construction too. 

The robot that lays brick; the 3-D printers that are printing/building homes; the autonomous work vehicles on solar construction sites delivering materials. 

It is happening around us, often to us and without any guardrails. Without thinking about the impact it will have on millions of jobs. And let’s just say, We will not let these tech companies and executives forget about the humanity of work.

We’re going to demand our place in the conversation, our seat at the table. 

And that means we need to move as fast as the new technology. We need to have our own plan.

And we do that together as a labor movement, where our unions become the place workers go to get the expertise for that next job. And we can make sure that the benefits of technology are shared broadly, with everyone, not just the big corporations and their billionaire investors.

But the biggest change we see happening right now..is the massive investment that is happening all over North America to rebuild our countries and our infrastructure.

That is because of you, LIUNA!

That is because of Terry and Armand and Brent and so many leaders here today who pushed and pushed for this agenda for decades. And would not let it die. 

Now we get to rebuild North America on our terms. Union terms.

President Biden and his administration have pushed this historic investment agenda forward. We now have the largest federal investment in a generation: Infrastructure. The Inflation Reduction Act. CHIPs and Science. 

800,000 good-paying jobs in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law alone!

New roads. New bridges. New public transit. Expanded passenger rail. Modernized airports. New investment in water infrastructure and clean drinking water for families, as we’re already seeing come to life just a few weeks ago.

You can look at the Inflation Reduction Act, too—which is looking like more than a million jobs. New jobs in clean energy that will be good union jobs, and help us keep build an industry with family sustaining wages like Terry said instead of the crappy, low wage renewable energy jobs we’ve seen in the past.

And in CHIPs and Science … there’s money for advanced manufacturing, with Buy American and domestic content requirements that will help bring manufacturing jobs back to the U.S.

So what is our job right now? It’s to organize. 

Let’s make sure this money lands in communities like it’s supposed to.

Thanks to your hard work, we have PLA requirements and Davis-Bacon prevailing wage standards—but we want to take it even further.

We want a domestic supply chain and manufacturing that supports all this construction to be all union as well! We want these semiconductor fabs to be built union but also make sure the workforce inside is all union too.  We want real immigration reform so we can create more opportunities for workers who come here looking for a better life for their kids —and prevent unscrupulous employers from creating a shadow economy.

Terry has been relentless in his advocacy and we are going to keep up the fight. We have to lean into the change—get out of our comfort zones and organize— no matter where projects or factories or companies are located because many will be in Right to Work states.

Terry often says: organize or die!

Think about all that legislation I just mentioned. All the opportunity coming down the pike. 

The question isn’t: Where are the jobs going to be?

The question is: Where are we going to get the manpower?

If everyone here pledged to talk to one new person each week, think about what we could do.

Think about the people in your daily routine. That person at the coffee shop that’s barely making ends meet, or a worker at a food truck, think about talking to your own kids and their friends. 

Strike up a conversation. Pitch them on what it means to work in construction in this moment. The apprenticeship programs. The good union pay and benefits. The fact that good LIUNA jobs can be life changing for years to come.

If you put yourselves in the shoes of a millennial … someone who has seen nothing but instability, wage and racial inequality, and global financial crisis for most of their adult lives … you can imagine how inspiring it would be for them.

I guarantee you: We will bring some new people into the fold. People who never dreamed of careers in construction.

And that’s the only way we’re going to be able to man the work that’s coming at us in the next decade or more — is to get out there, open our doors wider than ever and recruit women, people of color and partner at the community level. 

It is about making our collective voice louder. Stronger. 

And that this union rebuilds North America on our terms.

We have an incredible foundation to work from that Terry and Armand have spent decades building. And they did it by embracing change.

And right now, we have a chance to define the next few decades of our work, our movement and our country.

Let’s keep organizing in record numbers, taking risks and not being afraid to do something bold.

Let’s look back at this 120th anniversary and say: We built this future. We gave millions of people the power of a union. 

I’m so proud to stand with you, fight with you and win with you. Thank you LIUNA.

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