Shuler: SAG-AFTRA's Work Inspires Societal Change

AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler delivered the following remarks as prepared to the SAG-AFTRA convention:


I’m so thrilled to be with you at your convention. I’m beaming in from Newark, NJ, where we just did a big get-out-the-vote event with over 400 union members knocking on doors to make sure everyone votes. So I’m in a union hall—how perfect to have this knight over my shoulder?!

We are grateful to be compatriots with you in this labor movement—to be there to support each other and learn from each other. SAG-AFTRA is such a leader and an innovator. It’s an honor to fight alongside you.

Congratulations to President Fran Drescher; Executive Vice President Ben Whitehair; Secretary-Treasurer Joely Fisher; National Executive Director Duncan Crabtree-Ireland; and all the newly elected national and local officers.

This team, your dedicated staff, local leaders and member-activists are just incredible. And to Gabrielle Carteris, thank you for your many years of service and the bold voice you brought to our AFL-CIO table.

Okay SAG-AFTRA members, if you only hear one thing today, I hope it’s this: THANK YOU.

In the darkest days of the pandemic, through fear and uncertainty and isolation, you were, and continue to be, the voices and faces that bring us reassurance and hope.

You keep us informed; you cheer us up; you entertain and inspire us; and you keep us connected.

You’ve been such a lifeline for so many as we’ve endured, through uncertainty and loss.

We’ve weathered extraordinary challenges since COVID hit.

And SAG-AFTRA has been there, stepping up relentlessly for its members.

You set the standard for how to get people back to work safely.

Your collaboration with other unions and industry partners, you pioneered cutting-edge and common sense safety protocols that became best practices for others to follow.

The initial Return to Work Agreement you brokered was historic.

Those testing protocols, paid sick leave policies, and PPE requirements worked.

SAG-AFTRA covered over 77,000 more jobs in the first four months of 2021 than in 2020, representing a growth of over $140 million in member earnings.

And your latest Return-to-Work Agreement includes heightened safety and flexibility to adjust for the Delta variant.

You’re constantly adapting to meet the unique needs of your members. I think about the Intimacy Coordinators who are safeguarding performers while also changing workplace culture. You’re always looking around the corner at the next innovation for your members.

The union has become the center of gravity to grow connections among members, build and share the best practices and inspire action.

That’s so important, especially for this unique moment we’re in. COVID has pushed us to a tipping point. Working people are fed up. They’re tired of being called essential one minute and then being disrespected and treated as disposable the next. There’s a nation-wide reckoning happening RIGHT NOW, and people are starting to see unions as a solution more than ever before.

I’m sure you saw the latest Gallup poll on the public support of unions: 68 percent of people approve of unions—including 77 percent of young people.

Why is that? We’re rising up and fighting back. And when one public radio station talks to another, when SAG-AFTRA union members go on Twitter and talk about the ways they’re standing up and winning, others see that and think, wow, I want to be a part of that—I need a union.

And that’s why, since your 2019 convention, you’ve had so many public media organizing wins: WHYY in Philadelphia. WBGO in Newark. WAMU in D.C.

Marketplace at the national level and so many more.

Action inspires action. Solidarity grows solidarity. Workers are finding courage and taking risks.

RIGHT NOW, over 100,000 union members are either on strike or about to go on strike across the country in all kinds of industries.

And it’s amazing to see the solidarity of SAG-AFTRA members supporting their union siblings in all kinds of ways: walking picket lines, using their social media platforms to bring attention to bakery workers at Nabisco and Kelloggs in five states, auto workers at John Deere, distillery workers in Kentucky, hospital workers at Kaiser Permanente and of course I.A.T.S.E. which has authorized a strike with over a 90 percent turn out.

That unity and solidarity—public support and activism—is fueling BIG momentum.

The president of the United States is actually encouraging union organizing, using the bully pulpit and saying the “u-word”—union—everywhere he goes.

And thanks to SAG-AFTRA’s tireless work, you won the critical relief for your members in the American Rescue Plan, that made sure your members weren’t short-changed on unemployment benefits.

And right now, we are on the brink of passing long overdue, game-changing investments in working people and our communities with the reconciliation and the bipartisan infrastructure bills in Congress.

These bills would be the biggest investments in American jobs EVER.

Infrastructure is everything that connects us and enables us to go to work.

Roads and bridges, airports and broadband, public transportation, railways and a modern electric grid.

Plus paid family and medical leave, child care investments and universal pre-k.

And as Fran taught us in her unforgettable role in The Nanny, care is also critical infrastructure—because care work makes all other work possible.

We saw what happened during the pandemic when working people—mostly women—had to shoulder care responsibilities.

1.8 million women were sidelined and without access to quality, affordable care. It’s taking women longer to return to the workforce because of it.

And those who do the work in the care economy, overwhelmingly women of color, have been overlooked and underpaid.

Care jobs should be good jobs with decent wages and benefits.

The Build Back Better bill also includes a key piece of our labor law reform bill called the PRO Act. We were able to squeeze in first-of-their-kind penalties for employers who violate our right to organize. So when corporate union busters break the law and intimidate and harass workers who are forming a union, there will be real financial consequences!

So this is it.

We have so much opportunity ahead of us—it’s up to us to reach out and grab it.

This is our moment to grow a bolder, more dynamic and inclusive labor movement.

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.

A movement that fights for the policies and changes that will make a tangible difference in people’s lives. Like you did with the new National Public Radio contract that includes pay raises, 20 weeks of paid parental leave, and tangible diversity, equity, and inclusion commitments.

The contracts you negotiate and the work you do has such a powerful impact—the content people see on TV, what we hear on our podcasts and audiobooks—that inspires societal change.

What we see and hear should be authentic—it should reflect the full diversity of this country and be inclusive.

Racial and gender justice are critical for an equitable future—and for defining the future of work. Our economy is changing so fast, and we have to be nimble and adapt to meet the needs of the emerging workforce. Technology is being used to exploit workers in low-wage, on-demand platform work.

The majority are women and people of color. And corporations are abusing loopholes in the law to misclassify workers and deny them basic rights.

We can’t let new technology whittle away our wages, benefits, opportunities and safety. We want to be on the forefront of technological change and make it work for working people. To make sure our tax dollars that are underwriting scientific discoveries and tech breakthroughs are actually creating good paying jobs. We want a worker perspective and voice at every single stage of the innovation process and a seat at the table before, during, and as technology evolves and shapes our work.

That way, we can actually co-create with it.

We can get there through policy, training and bargaining—especially by bargaining ahead of tech, not just after the fact.

Unions have always been innovators. We innovated the weekend. And we’re going to continue to innovate.

Just look at Safe Place, the reporting platform available through the SAG-AFTRA app that makes it easier for members or anyone who has worked under a SAG-AFTRA contract to discreetly and securely report sexual harassment.

That is exactly the type of innovation we want to see within our unions.

And we want to innovate writ-large so we can organize and grow an even bigger, bolder movement.

In fact, you probably heard we just added a new affiliate. The National Women’s Soccer League Players Association—our labor family is now 57 unions strong. They see the power of joining together with the broader labor movement as they fight back against harassment and abuse in their workplace, the soccer field.

We are 12.5 million working people in jobs all across the economy. The labor movement is the most powerful vehicle for progress in this country.

We want every working person to have a place in our movement.

Together, we are a uniting and uplifting force for good.

This is our moment.

So keep it going, SAG-AFTRA.

You are vital. You are visionary. And this has been an outstanding virtual convention.

Keep up the great work.

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