Speech | Labor Law · Infrastructure

Shuler Salutes 125 Years of Ironworkers' Breakthroughs

AFL-CIO Acting President Liz Shuler delivered the following remarks to the Ironworkers Convention: 

Thank you so much for the kind introduction, Eric [Dean]. And thank you to everyone for all the notes, calls, texts and expressions of love and support these last few days. As I know you’ve heard, Rich passed away last week. He was camping with his family in Pennsylvania, fishing and being outdoors with his grandkids, doing what he loved. Rich was looking forward to this convention, to thanking and acknowledging all of you and celebrating 125 years of Ironworker solidarity. 

And while we recognize that proud history and its traditions, Rich really respected Eric for his innovative leadership, and how he is always looking forward. As we look forward now. I see the best way we can honor Rich’s life is by continuing his life’s work. We will carry Rich’s spirit with us as we press forward to pass the  Richard L. Trumka Protecting the Right to Organize Act. That’s right, our friends in Congress are renaming the PRO Act after our beloved leader. And Rich’s spirit will be with us as we pass these historic infrastructure investments (today in the Senate) that will boost the economy and create good union jobs. Rich’s legacy will live in the actions we take to pass new legislation to protect every American’s right to vote. In that way, his legend will always live on. Please, join me now in a moment of silence in his honor. 

[Ten second pause.]

Thank you.

In your 125 year history, Ironworkers have met so many challenges and made just as many breakthroughs. One-hundred years ago a different viral pandemic killed hundreds of thousands of prime-age workers. Twenty years ago New York Ironworkers answered the call in the aftermath of 9/11, those who ran back into the rubble at Ground Zero and so many throughout the tri-state area and from all across the country were involved in the cleanup. Five years ago, Ironworkers made history as the first building trade to establish paid maternity leave, setting the standard and example for other trades to follow. And less than one year ago we elected the most pro-worker administration—thanks to your early and consistent support of President Biden and Vice President Harris.

And with a pro worker majority in the House and Senate...now we’re going to build back better—keyword better—better than it is or ever was, with unions. We’re on the brink of historic investments in infrastructure, manufacturing, supply chains and job training. Roads, bridges. Waterways. Public transportation, rural development, public education. And investments that recognize care is critical infrastructure. 

The $3.5 trillion budget resolution being voted on this week would create the first ever federal Paid Family and Medical Leave benefit. It includes clean energy research and game-changing infrastructure. There's a long overdue path to citizenship. And labor law enforcement, with real penalties. 

In every conversation I have I like to point out that those infrastructure jobs are absolutely jobs for women. As Vice President Harris put it, “Hard hats are unisex.” And that is so important because COVID-19 has touched every community but women lost almost a million more jobs than men, with Black and Latina women suffering the greatest job losses. To help those women and everyone who’s been sidelined, we want investments in apprenticeship programs that are going to create not just a job, but a family-supporting career

And the labor movement is the gold standard. We are the bridge to high-growth, high-demand jobs. Our apprenticeship readiness and apprenticeship programs put people on the path to the middle class. And your work to open the doors wider than ever in your recruitment process is exactly what we need. 

I know Vicki O'Leary has done some amazing work to launch The Lean In Circles community to help women succeed in the trades. It’s effective because it enables women to come together (even virtually via Zoom) to share strategies, improve their experiences at work and give them the tools to thrive on the job. That’s the type of innovation mindset we need. Because this is our moment to grow. We have a once-in-a-generation chance to get it right. Everyone included. No community left behind. American-made industries, American supply-chains. High labor standards on every tax dollar invested in construction with PLAs and Davis-Bacon protections; worker perspective and voice in every step of the innovation process as new technology is evolving and shaping our work.

And we need the Richard Trumka PRO Act to make sure jobs now and jobs on the horizon in new industries will be good, union jobs. We need the PRO Act to remove barriers like the fear of getting fired when we stand together with our co-workers and try to organize a union. We need the PRO Act to make sure the clean energy future and American innovation are union-made. And to lift up worker voice and perspective so that we benefit from our taxpayer investments. 

Because this isn’t just about unions. It’s about the fundamental economic power of working people in the United States. It’s about the next generation of Ironworkers and how they’ll innovate and organize. And how, together, 12.5 million working people in 56 unions we are the most powerful vehicle for progress in this country.

Thank you and congratulations on this amazing milestone.

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