Shuler to NABTU: Unions Bring Hope and Better Lives

Washington, D.C.

Thank you so much, Sean [McGarvey], for that introduction! Thank you for your friendship over the years; your brotherhood. For the incredible vision you’ve brought to the trades agenda.

I want to thank you and Brandon Bishop, the general board of presidents and every single one of the state and local leaders out there for turning the building trades into a powerhouse all over North America!

I was thinking about this speech a couple days ago, doing the math and I figured out this is 25 years since my first NABTU Legislative Conference. A quarter of a century that I’ve been coming here.

Who here was around back in ’99? We were all a little younger. Brittany Spears and the Matrix were all the rage. We were preparing for Y2K. But those were all just temporary.

But one through line, the one constant that has never changed in those 25 years is the respect of our building trades unions.

I travel around all over this country—through the IBEW, through the AFL-CIO—and I’ve met countless construction workers. And it doesn’t matter which craft you’re in: People look at the building trades as a source of hope.

People see us literally building our country and they say to themselves: Something better is possible.

If I work hard, if I get the opportunity, if I stand together with my fellow workers my life can change, too. I can show up to work and feel good. I can grow. I can thrive.

That’s the story of our unions and that story matters. We just need to tell it far and wide so every worker in this country can hear it loud and clear.

Because we are in one of those moments where the pendulum is going to swing, one way or the other. We are either going to look back 10 years from now, when we were sitting in this conference, and say “wow, we did everything we could to take advantage of the opportunity to grow our market share,” or “wow, if only we’d done more…”

Because the investments are there, the public is on our side, and people are fed up with the way things have been going. And they’re right to be, aren’t they?

Does it make sense to anyone in this room that the average CEO is making 272 times what the average worker is making?

Does it make sense to anyone in this room that Jeff Bezos makes in seven seconds what an Amazon warehouse worker makes in a year? That he has enough money to rocket himself into space while half this country lives paycheck to paycheck?

People are doing more and more for less and less of the pie.

They want to know that things can change. That it doesn’t have to be this way.

And they’re being offered two paths right now.

One is to demonize. To turn on their fellow workers. To divide ourselves by race, by orientation, by religion, by immigration status.

And there’s the other path. The better path. The path where we come together. Where we take on our real enemies. Where we bring hope and better lives to tens of millions of people.

Finally people are seeing that the labor movement is the place to go to make the change, to build power and have a seat at the table.

We have proven it again and again and again: Our apprenticeship programs are the gold standard. A pathway to the middle class.

The apprenticeship readiness programs that are bringing women, workers of color, returning citizens and veterans into our unions in record numbers, changing lives in some cases overnight.

The work we did together in 2020, to get Joe Biden into the White House — passing the largest federal investments in our country in an entire generation!

The American Rescue Plan? Done.

Multi employer pension relief? Done.

Infrastructure week? How about an infrastructure decade. Done.

The IRA, CHIPS? Done and done.

This choice we have in front of us this year… it couldn’t be clearer.

We have a President who walked a union picket line for the first time in American history during the auto workers strike.

We have a President who has created more than 14 million jobs… running against a guy whose best job creation right now is for his own lawyers.

We have a President who actually understands Davis-Bacon running against a guy who only understands the ‘bacon’ part!

A vote for President Biden, for Vice President Harris, it’s not just a vote for two politicians, it’s a vote for ourselves. It’s a vote for the power that we’ve built, together.

We’ve spent nearly four years now creating these foundations for the future.

A vote for Joe Biden is letting the world know: Our unions are ready to build.

Yes, we have to mobilize like never before for this election, but we can’t let politics distract us from the number one priority we should all be focused on at all times, and that is organizing.

We have to keep organizing. In our own unions, yes, but also support each other’s campaigns across our movement.

This is about all of us working together to show the power of a union in every industry, every sector of the economy. Like when Sean over here showed up and walked the picket line with SAG-AFTRA this past year! That kind of solidarity shows the world: We won’t be divided.

If multibillion dollar corporations are going to use artificial intelligence to write an actor out of a job, then we as construction workers will stand with you, because that fight might affect actors today, but it’s coming for all of us eventually.

Finally: I’ll end by circling back to something I mentioned earlier. The power of telling our stories.

Bringing all these wins we’ve talked about to life. Showing the human impact of these investments and how it’s made a difference for real people in communities all over this country.

Think about the power you have in being leaders in our movement and use it. You often don’t realize the impact you can make on a member, a potential member. 

I remember meeting a woman last year at the Tradeswomen build nations conference. Her name was Mallory. She was with LiUNA in Seattle, Washington. 

She told me that she was active in the union but mostly worked behind-the-scenes. She said that after leaving the conference, she went home, thought about some of the speeches she heard, about the power of telling your story and decided, 'Okay, why not me? If not me, then who?'

And she pushed herself. She worked with her business manager to recruit more women into the local. She then became active at the state house and started lobbying for legislation. All she needed was that little push, hearing someone’s story.

Every one of us has that potential. To share our own story. To share the NABTU story. To let people know: You’re right, something better is possible. And we can do it if we all work together.

Let’s keep our foot on the gas.

Let’s keep building with NABTU leading the way. I can’t wait to see where we go from here. Thank you.