AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler delivered the following remarks as prepared to the executive board of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU-UFCW):
Hello everyone. I wish I could be with you in person. But I’m proud we’ve been nimble, we’ve adapted and expanded the ways we connect throughout the pandemic—so I’m thrilled to join you, even if it is by video.
RWDSU is such a leader in innovating and this board, your dedicated staff, local leaders and member-activists are just incredible.
Stuart [Appelbaum], you’ve been a champion for working people throughout this pandemic and a source of strength and a thought partner as we chart a path forward at the federation.
And Jack [Wurm], thank you for your trusted leadership, and your dedication, Joseph [Dorismond].
RWDSU has been there through it all. Through attacks on our democracy, a global pandemic with no leadership from the last administration, the trauma of structural racism and sky-high inequality, RWDSU leadership and members stepped up.
And they are still stocking, feeding, processing, distributing, nursing, caring, supplying, serving and in so many ways, lifting up our communities.
Because of it, the working people who for so long have been overlooked are now being recognized as heroes.
RWDSU members were, are, and will always be essential. But now the rest of the country knows it too.
And people in other industries are starting to see the value of joining a union. They see that having a union means a stronger voice on the job, that you can speak up without fear to get the safety equipment and protections you need in the workplace during a pandemic, and that you can make change by sticking together.
And that’s why support for unions is the highest it’s been in half a century—68 percent, including 77 percent of young people.
And along with the most pro-union administration actually encouraging organizing, people are speaking up and taking risks to reclaim their power through unions.
And the pandemic has made the union difference crystal clear. Better pay, benefits and working conditions. During COVID, it’s been life-saving.
We’re also connecting the dots that unions are one of the most powerful ways to fight discrimination at work and guarantee equal pay.
RWDSU has been lifting up the vital work your members are doing and introducing a new generation to the power of organizing. You captured the nation’s imagination with an organizing drive in the Deep South, where the racist strategy of dividing Black and white workers is alive and well with right to work laws.
The campaign at the Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, is having a ripple effect. Thank you Randy [Hadley] and the mid-south council and the entire RWDSU organizing team. I had the opportunity to meet some of the courageous workers who stood up and captured the world’s attention.
And that campaign was about so much more than one company. It was about fundamental power, inequality and racial justice.
About a labor movement that's innovating and organizing to take on issues like data collection, and making progress in the long march for civil rights.
It wasn’t the end, it was a powerful beginning.
And when Data for Progress polled folks about it, they found something surprising. As expected, voters have an unfavorable view of Amazon because of its union-busting tactics. Voters are on the side of workers who want to form a union. And voters support the PRO Act.
But here’s the surprising part: The majority of voters even said they’re now less likely to give Amazon their business.
And no doubt, this fight isn’t finished. In August, the NLRB hearing officer recommended a new election at Amazon in Bessemer.
Wherever the path ahead may lead, the entire labor movement has your back.
We know progress doesn’t happen overnight. And the workers at Housing Works in New York know a little bit about that. The case workers, social workers, healthcare and retail employees, and maintenance and legal staffers walked off of the job, marched to the Brooklyn Borough Hall and raised their voices about low pay, poor health coverage and high caseloads. And more than a year later, thanks to the steadfast support of RWDSU, those employees voted to stand together in a union.
An overwhelming 88 percent voted to join, and now they’re part of the RWDSU family.
We’re celebrating that major victory and cheering you on as you make your way through the first contract negotiations.
There was another major win for working people in the Empire State with the passage of the New York Heroes Act. You fought for that—to create a new Airborne Infectious Disease Exposure Prevention Standard to protect working people.
That’s such a good example of how we organize and advance policy at the same time. Because it’s not one or the other; to build power, it’s both.
It’s how we grow a bold, dynamic and inclusive labor movement into the future.
A movement that is transparent and accessible and welcoming of young working people.
A movement that innovates to keep pace with a changing economy, like the Great Resignation where a record number of people are quitting jobs.
A movement in every sector and every community, with women and people of color at the center.
It sounds a little corny or cliché, but we are truly in a unique moment—some people call it an inflection point—between our time-honored traditions and our cutting-edge future.
And if you think about the institutions in this country, we are the single most powerful vehicle for progress in the United States.
To grow that power, we have to organize at every level. And RWDSU is not afraid to take on those challenges and innovate organizing breakthroughs, try new things and keep learning from workers.
And speaking of organizing and innovation, I want to shine a spotlight on Action Builder—I know many of you are familiar with it and you used it in the field during the Amazon campaign—it’s a digital organizing tool.
How we developed it is groundbreaking. We didn’t just purchase a tool and say here, use this. We brought unlikely people with different skills and approaches to one table.
The AFL-CIO partnered with affiliated unions including RWDSU. We listened to your needs. And now we have a tool that’s democratizing organizing, making it more accessible for people historically on the margins—women, people of color, young people and people who have never organized before.
That sort of organizing power coupled with opportunities we have through investments are how we reach a whole new level.
The Build Back Better investment agenda moving through Congress as a reconciliation bill will be game-changing.
It has a key part of the PRO Act—penalties for employers who violate our right to organize. And you know first hand how that will make a difference.
This package of investments is going to create good, union jobs and the infrastructure we rely on to go to work, including critical care infrastructure.
These investments have been decades in the making. And this is just the beginning. Because everyone should have access to the life-changing power of a good, union job.
So we are going to keep pushing to update labor laws for this century.
We are going to protect and expand our voting rights.
We are going to put an end to wage theft, the shadow economy and the practice of misclassifying us as contractors to deny us our rights.
The path to citizenship is long overdue. There is no economic justice when the people who build, serve and feed this country are disenfranchised.
A worker-centered democracy depends on our rights at the ballot box and in our workplaces.
As one united labor movement, we build pressure and we grow power. Together, we are an uplifting force for good. And the progress we make makes things better for every single working person in this country.
So keep it going. Keep up the great work. I can’t wait to see where we go from here. Thank you.