Shuler: Pennsylvania Labor Is Bringing Us Together


AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler delivered the following remarks as prepared to the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO 45th Constitutional Convention:

Hello, union family! I’m so happy to be with you all.

Rick [Bloomingdale]—my brother and good friend—thank you for that kind introduction. You and Frank [Snyder] have made a truly dynamic team.

Thank you both for your incredible leadership, and to the executive board and all of the state fed staff. I just want to recognize how hard you’ve worked to keep our labor movement moving forward through the pandemic, giving voice to our members on the front lines and fighting for the protections they needed. Thank you for your commitment and passion for our work.

I know how challenging it can be to put on a convention but you’re making it look easy. And I want to thank the Allegheny-Fayette CLC and President [Darrin] Kelly for hosting us in this great city.

A city Rich Trumka loved—in a state he loved. He loved coming back to Pennsylvania—back to the place where he was born and raised and where he worked the mines, and where he earned his degrees. Rich was Pennsylvania through and through. He loved this commonwealth and he loved the Pennsylvania labor movement.

I miss him every day—his friendship, and I know he was a good friend to many of you. Rich always looked forward to this convention—to thank and acknowledge all of you.

And he would have especially cherished the opportunity to send your fearless president off in style.

Because the working families of Pennsylvania have had no better advocate than Rick [Bloomingdale]. And our democracy has had no better champion. When the mail-in ballots from the 2020 general election still needed to be counted and when it looked like the democratic processes we hold as sacred appeared to be cracking, Rick was at the front and kept making the point that courts or political appointees don’t decide the outcome of elections, voters do. And Pennsylvania voted in record numbers—and that kind of democratic participation is a strength and the right to a free and fair election shouldn’t be undermined.

Rick, it has been an honor to work with you. Thank you for leading the charge for working people here in Pennsylvania and across America, and I wish you the happiest and healthiest of retirements. You deserve it.

Because the past couple of years, we have had to battle, haven’t we? The pandemic, the 2020 elections, the attacks on our democracy and our rights to vote and to organize, and now the anxiety and stress of what’s happening in Ukraine and the needless suffering of the people there.

The Solidarity Center has an office in Ukraine and we have been getting reports, like from the Secretary of the Confederation of Free Trade Unions in Ukraine. She was sleeping in her house in Kiev when she was woken up by a nearby explosion.

When she spoke with a reporter, the first words out of her mouth were about her trade union family—how many of them either fled the country or headed off to fight. The labor movement there has mobilized people wherever they could, all around Ukraine, helping to organize bunkers and supply centers. They're taking refuge in undisclosed locations where they’re preparing resource-packages for the people who are fleeing, but also providing protective gear to those fighting on the front lines.

That’s what it means to be in a union. And as they say, solidarity has no borders. And while we are pulling together our capacity as trade unions here in the U.S. and pulling together a unified response with the global labor movement, we still have to focus on staying unified here at home. Despite all the obstacles. And those who want to break us apart.

The stakes are high. But I’m optimistic.

Because despite being faced with a new and incredible challenge at every turn these past couple of years, working people in Pennsylvania and across the country decided to face these challenges together. Working people chose unity.

We kept our country running throughout the pandemic.

We showed up for our communities when it was needed most.

And because we showed up for each other, America has the chance to rise from the ashes of the pandemic stronger than before. And our bold and inclusive and diverse labor movement is leading the way.

We have a generational opportunity to turn the momentum you’ve created into concrete victories—to galvanize workers and win better contracts—and push Congress to pass transformational legislation.

For the first time in a long time, America’s workers are using their leverage to demand fair wages and dignity at work from Erie to Philadelphia.

Public support is off the charts—especially among young people. And workers are seeing unions as a vehicle for making that change more than ever before.

To them, the union difference is more than just better pay and benefits. It’s also about dignity and respect and having a voice to shape workplace culture.

Workers are fed up. They’re exhausted and frustrated and for many of them, the pandemic was the tipping point. They’re tired of risking their health and safety for a crappy job and being told that they were “essential” one minute and expendable the next.

We’ve been hearing all over the media about people quitting their jobs, or the “Great Resignation.” But really, it’s the “Great Realignment” or the “Great Reimagination” because workers are refusing to go back to terrible jobs with low pay.

But low pay is only part of the equation. We just did a survey of workers who left their job in the past two years. Not surprising, workers who quit their jobs have a lot of negative feelings about work—but what WAS surprising was that workplace culture was a driver more than pay. Unfair treatment, burnout, toxic environments and poor management were the top reasons why they left.

And a majority believe that collective action could be a solution.

Ironworkers at Erie Strayer. Steelworkers at ATI and NLMK. And Pennsylvania labor stood strong with all these workers in their fights for fair contracts.

That solidarity was contagious! The BCTGM strike this past fall at Kellogg’s in Lancaster and at plants across the country captured the nation’s attention. 800 AFT teachers in Scranton showed incredible courage and went out in November and demanded better pay and health care and more.

Just a couple of weeks ago IUE-CWA Local 144 members at City Brewery in Latrobe got back to the bargaining table after striking for equitable pay and a voice on scheduling.

But when we are out organizing, and talking to people about why they should join a union, we rarely talk about workplace culture—it’s a disconnect. And something we should be reflective of as we try to reach out to the emerging workforce.

And if we aren’t waking up everyday thinking about organizing, especially in this moment where working people are speaking out, standing up and demanding change like never before, then shame on us. We are in a moment!

Right here in Pittsburgh—workers organizing with UFCW Local 1776 Keystone State at Coffee Tree—the faculty and staff on the Pitt campus, and health care workers at assisted living centers in Allegheny County organizing with USW.

And so many more organizing wins are made possible by bringing people together… organizers from across the state sharing best practices—what works, what doesn’t—and sharing information and finding opportunities to collaborate. These regular organizing committee meetings are a model for others to follow.

Pennsylvania is showing us the way. You’ve transformed the state fed into a center of gravity for worker organizing AND political activism. Because we have to do both—grow our ranks and elect pro-worker candidates up and down the ballot.

The work you did in the 2020 elections was a game changer. We voted Joe Biden and the most pro-worker administration in history into office.

This commonwealth was absolutely critical in delivering that victory. The advocacy and outreach of Pennsylvania’s labor movement—the voter registration campaigns—the canvassing and phone banking—writing letters and postcards to voters—it made all the difference.

And here we are again, already—the 2022 elections are upon us and we seem to be more polarized than ever. We have been building out the framework for our political plan nationally, and we know we have to approach it differently this time.

We’re going to need to do some deep listening and get back to basics. Reestablish credibility through face to face conversations, especially in the worksites.

Those conversations will surface the issues that really matter to our members and then we can connect those issues to the candidates when it’s time to get out the vote.

And we already have plenty of things to talk about: The American Rescue Plan—the bipartisan infrastructure bill—those were huge victories.

It will put people to work across this state fixing roads and bridges, improving our ports and airports and water infrastructure, installing broadband and electric vehicle charging stations—an 18 billion dollar investment for Pennsylvania and tens of thousands of good, union jobs for Pennsylvanians.

And we’re not done. We are still pushing Congress to Build a Better America and deliver more for working families. Infrastructure is more than just roads and bridges and broadband. It is also health care and home care and education.

Because that new road or bridge isn’t so great if you can’t use it to get to work because you don’t have access to reliable dependent care.

We’re working hard to make sure quality, affordable child care remains a priority. We've heard it over and over again that many people, mainly women, have been sidelined during the pandemic because they’re primary caregivers. The child care system in our country is badly broken and HAS to be fixed.

This isn’t just a women’s issue. This is a family issue. This is a working person's issue. This is a core economic issue. The pandemic made that clear. Care work makes all other jobs possible. That’s the bottom line.

And care jobs should be good jobs with livable wages, benefits and protections, and we’re still pushing to pass the PRO Act and the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act.

We absolutely have to connect these victories back to our pro-worker administration and Congress.

Because there is so much misinformation and disinformation out there and it is dividing our country.

One America is being fed one set of information and the other America something else. It’s destabilizing. It’s divisive. And it is shaking the very foundation of our democracy.

But we are in a unique position—we can help close the information divide and heal our democracy. We can be that trusted source of information. We can cut through the noise with one on one, face to face conversations, and that will make all the difference.

We can do this—let’s leave this convention and commit to reaching out to our members in new ways. Will you commit to a one on one conversation with every one of your members between now and the election? Let’s be bold and not be afraid to try new things.

I’m so proud of everything we’ve accomplished together so far. Let’s keep the momentum rolling. I can’t wait to see where we go from here.

Thank you.