Shuler to NABTU: Let's Build a Movement to Meet the Moment

Washington, D.C.

Thank you, Sean (McGarvey), for the kind words, and most importantly, for your friendship. You’re a true brother—and the vision and focus you’ve brought to the building trades agenda is incredible—you and secretary-treasurer Brent Booker are a phenomenal team and I’m so grateful for your partnership and vision. Thank you to the general board of presidents, and state and local leaders who have made the building trades a powerhouse all across North America.

It’s such an honor to be with you, this conference has been a huge part of my life—I can’t believe I can say I’ve been attending since 1999 (there’s a Prince song in there somewhere...). That’s over 20 years! And to share the stage with such a fierce lineup of trailblazing women leaders? Senator Murkowski, the first woman senator from Alaska. Secretary Raimondo, the first woman governor of Rhode Island. And of course Speaker Pelosi, the first and only woman Speaker of the House. Talk about inspiration.

It’s been quite a morning. Anybody else in here have a late night watching the national championship last night? If you’re from Kansas you’re still celebrating. What a game!

We have a lot of other victories to celebrate too—the victories we’ve won for working people.

We elected one of the most pro-union administrations in history. And they are delivering results.

We have a building tradesman as our Secretary of Labor! Marty Walsh, is the first union leader to run the department in more than four decades. That’s already making a difference for our members every day.

The American Rescue Plan was huge—and so much of that is thanks to your leadership. We organized and mobilized for decades to get relief for our multiemployer pension plans (Sean McGarvey, take a bow because you led us!). Now we can truly say, promises made will be promises kept.

And speaking of promises kept, it was this administration that finally delivered on infrastructure. Other presidents talked about rebuilding America. President Joe Biden got it done.

The bipartisan infrastructure law is helping us create millions of good union jobs to fix roads and bridges; improve our ports and airports and water infrastructure; install and maintain energy-efficient building tech; and build a national electric vehicle charging network and so much more.

Now it’s up to us to shape this investment for the generations to come, to take advantage of the strong labor standards we got attached to this infrastructure spending—seek out those innovative partnerships with grant recipients—be the enforcers to make sure that the money lands the way it’s supposed to.

And it’s up to us to train the workforce and supply a steady stream of workers for these jobs. Especially women, people of color, veterans and the formerly incarcerated—folks who may not realize the power of a union apprenticeship. It’s our time to shine, and be laser-focused in recruiting and expanding access to underrepresented communities, and create on-ramps to careers for people that will last a lifetime.

And we know how to do that, don’t we? No one is better at training people than us. So let’s make that training pipeline reflective of the communities where the jobs are being created—and make good on President Biden’s promise to deliver at least 40 percent of the overall benefits from federal investments in clean energy to disadvantaged communities.

We have unlimited potential to recruit and train a diverse workforce and to work with our employer partners to expand our footprint into parts of the country that don’t have a lot of union density. And to train an emerging workforce for the jobs of tomorrow.

Sean and Brent talk about it all the time—the building trades apprenticeship programs are the gold standard. But more people need to know about it—It shouldn’t be our best kept secret. Earn while you learn—and afterwards, there’s a good job waiting for you—a career filled with dignity and opportunity and advancement. We’ve seen how it changes lives. A single mom, who was sleeping in her car, not knowing where she was going to find the next meal for her son, who found hope in her union and now is building wind turbines and powering America. This is powerful stuff.

The infrastructure jobs we’re planning for are going to be good jobs in our own backyards. The Biden-Harris Lead Pipe and Paint Action Plan is a good example—it will not only give everyone access to clean water in their communities, but will grow good jobs locally. Build value for—and trust with—our partner employers. The investments in the clean energy economy, like offshore wind. And expanding on the top-down partnerships we are building with companies like Orsted, who see the value of working with the most highly skilled and trained professionals in the industry. Thank you Brent for your incredible work on that MOU and PLA—we have a chance to not only build sustainable infrastructure, but a sustainable future with good union jobs at the center.

But to get there, we have to meet this modernization of our country with modernization of our own.

We have to change, adapt and shift with the times. We need to build unions with members and leaders who look like our communities and share our values.

And we are. We are building a modern, dynamic and inclusive movement to meet the moment.

We are building a movement that leverages our power to bring women and people of color from the margins to the center—at work, in our unions and in our economy.

I know what it’s like to be the only woman in the room. I got my start in the labor movement coming up through IBEW Local 125 out of Portland, Oregon, nearly 30 years ago.

There are more women in the building trades now than there were decades ago, but we still have a lot of work to do in order to better recruit, retain and protect our union sisters.

And that needs to be a priority because by 2025 (three years), women will be half the labor movement.

We have 6.5 million women members in our unions. In fact, WE—the labor movement—are the largest working women’s organization in the country.

And I want every single one of those women, in every type of job, to see they have a place in our movement. And that—if they want—that place can be at the head of the table.

And I’m so proud to see the building trades building and experimenting with different programs and structures to move the needle: pre-apprenticeship programs to give women the knowledge and skills they need to succeed from the first day they put on a hard hat; women’s committees and tradeswomen organizations—like NABTU’s Lean In Circles—that help foster that support network which we know is so important.

Our movement has to be constantly adapting and changing along with our members. Because work is constantly evolving and changing. Jobs are being redefined every day—just look at how the “gig” economy has reshaped work in the course of a few years. And it’s not just rideshare and delivery now. We’re seeing the Uberization of Nursing being proposed in California. The gig economy likes to think it’s unique—that they’re technology-driven platforms, not employers, so they don’t have to pay decent wages or provide health care or worker’s comp. But we know there’s a better way—that you can be flexible and have a dynamic workforce AND take care of the people doing the work. It’s called the building trades model—WE are the original gig employer and we know it doesn’t have to be a race to the bottom.

We want to show the world as we build toward the future, that our movement is adapting to meet the moment. And this is an incredibly pivotal moment, where so many things feel so high stakes—Ukraine—the Supreme Court—Truth Social—even March Madness seemed more dramatic than usual.

We started by talking about the victory at the Superdome in New Orleans, but the victory I can’t stop thinking about is the one at JFK8 on Staten Island.

On Friday, workers formed the first ever union at Amazon. And the Amazon Labor Union is making waves across the country. Of course, this victory was inspired by the heroic, trailblazing workers in Bessemer, Alabama, who are now within striking distance of forming their own union with RWDSU-UFCW, after the second election at that plant.

It’s incredible. Amazon continues to break the law. And workers continue to defy the odds. In the face of one of the richest, most anti-union corporations, workers triumphed. They reminded us how important it is to try new things and to learn from each other.

Workers across the country are reevaluating what they need from their employers. And we need to stand ready with every tool we have to help them reimagine the future.

Victory at Amazon proves that when working people unite in the fight for justice, anything is possible. This is an incredible moment for union activism, and it is clear this is just the beginning.

We’re not going to let outdated labor laws stand in our way of organizing and growing our power. We’re going to keep fighting for the PRO Act and for a better, brighter vision for working people. And we’re going to keep fighting for paid leave and accessible child care.

We are going to keep fighting and organizing, and growing because that is how we build the future we all want—a future where every working person has a good, union job, in every community. And where every worker has the training and support they need to get those jobs and keep them.

Our members and the American people are fed up and fired up. Let’s show them that the labor movement has their back.

Let’s keep our foot on the gas.

We have momentum—and the Building Trades are leading the way.

Let’s build on it and build an economy that works for working people. Everyone included, no one left behind.

I can’t wait to see where we go from here.

Thank you.