AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler delivered the following remarks at a White House Labor Day celebration:
Thank you so much, President Biden and Vice President Harris. You are leading the most pro-worker administration in U.S. history. And our labor movement is the single most powerful force for progress in the United States.
In the past two centuries, industry by industry, in factories, mines and mills, we challenged inhumane conditions. We created safety standards. We transformed grim, dangerous work into good, sustainable union jobs. This administration gets it—that’s how unions built the American middle class.
It’s what we celebrate on Labor Day. Along with working people who, through so many challenges, are still delivering, feeding, teaching, caregiving, cleaning, building, rescuing, serving and in so many ways, lifting up our communities.
We were—are—and always will be essential. Labor Day was brought to you by the labor movement. Our innovations, like the weekend, make life better for everyone. And to meet this extraordinary moment we’re building a modern, inclusive labor movement.
A movement in every sector and every community, with women and people of color moving from the margins, to the center. Unions are the best way to guarantee equal pay, close wage gaps and fight discrimination at work. We create pathways to the middle class for veterans, for those who’ve been sidelined, for everyone. The power of a good, sustainable union job is life-changing.
That’s why an overwhelming majority—you probably heard this last week in the Gallup poll—68 percent of Americans and 77 percent of young people support labor unions. The highest approval ratings in over half a century.
From tech to transportation to sanitation and more, working people are choosing to stand together in unions.
Everything is lined up—we’ve got the public on our side, workers standing up and taking risks and the most pro union administration in history. This is our moment! And shame on us if we don’t take advantage of it. But with labor laws written in 1935 and the corporate attacks that have chipped them away over time, today it’s actually easier to stop a union than it is to form one.
That’s why we need to pass the PRO Act—now named in Rich’s memory and called the Richard L. Trumka Protecting the Right to Organize Act—and we need the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act right alongside it.
The PRO Act is the foundation of our Workers First Agenda. This is the worker-centered change we voted for in the last election and that this administration is delivering with the Build Back Better plan. So we’re putting everything we have into passing it. Every working person and every family in every state would benefit in some way. Child care tax credits, the first ever federal paid family and medical leave benefit. A long overdue path to citizenship. Infrastructure investments and apprenticeship programs. American-made industries, American supply-chains made with good, union jobs. That’s the Biden-Harris vision for America’s future.
COVID-19, the climate crisis and technology have radically changed our lives and work. We are not going back to how it was before. I hear from working people all across the country: We won’t risk our lives in this pandemic for an unreliable, low-wage Job. Our system of care is broken and it should be seen as critical infrastructure. And we shouldn’t have to work two or three jobs to make it—one job should be enough.
And it’s the labor movement that will lead the transformation. We are innovating and fighting for what will be the next weekend. And with the game-changing leadership of the Biden-Harris administration, we will build back better with unions. To win an America where every working person has the right to a good, sustainable, union job. And with it, access to an expansive, new American middle class.
The labor movement is open for business. And we’re just getting started.