Speech | Labor Law · Future of Work

Shuler: Transport Workers Are Leading the Way

Las Vegas

AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler's remarks as prepared to the Transportation Workers Union 24th International Convention:

Thank you so much for that thoughtful introduction, Alex [Garcia]. Thank you to everyone putting in the work to make this convention possible. 

John [Samuelsen], Jerome [Lafragola], Curtis [Tate], Mike [Mayes] and Alex, thank you for your dedication and leadership. And to members of the Transport Workers Union, thank you for your resilience.

Our entire labor family of 56 unions, 12.5 million working people in jobs all across the economy, see, feel and benefit from the work TWU does. And I want you to know we will never, ever forget those who've died on the frontlines.
As a movement, in such a short period, we’ve experienced so much loss. President John Sweeney, Larry Willis—many more union siblings, community members and loved ones. And my friend and partner, President Richard Trumka.

You know that Rich was absolutely laser focused on the PRO Act. That’s why it’s so fitting that our friends in Congress are going to rename the PRO Act in Rich’s honor. We are going to pass the Richard L. Trumka Protecting the Right to Organize Act. We’re going to keep moving and the memory of all those we’ve lost will be there, with every step forward.  

Please, join me now in a moment of silence in their honor.

[A moment of silence is observed.] 

Thank you.

The Transport Workers Union was born in the Great Depression in response to corporate greed—being underpaid, overworked, and mistreated in unreliable jobs. And in your 87 year history, you’ve met so many challenges and made just as many breakthroughs.

During the Civil Rights movement, TWU members marched with Dr. King in Selma, Alabama. Local 556, representing Southwest Airlines flight attendants, won a four-month maternity leave for female employees and put an end to “hotpants.” Local 234 won breakthrough contract language against harassment.

We just observed the 20th anniversary of 9/11—the loss and sacrifice of cabin crews, passengers and first responders—and how transit workers answered the call in the aftermath. And after decades of under-investment in our transportation systems, through the worst public health crisis in a century and no leadership from the last administration, you stepped up.

You’re doing the frontline work that makes other frontline jobs possible. With dwindling revenue, public transit and Amtrak workers have kept our transit and passenger rail systems running.

Every day, at least one transit worker is assaulted during their shift, yet bus operators and flight attendants continue to help people connect to their destinations.

Pilots and flight attendants recently aided humanitarian efforts to transport Afghan refugees to the U.S.

Through climate disasters, like Hurricane Ida that flooded the New York subway, TWU workers stayed up all night to escort passengers out of stations to safety.

You were, are, and always will be essential. And now it’s time to shape our future.

We are building a bold, modern labor movement. A movement that is transparent and inclusive and welcoming of young working people. A movement that keeps pace with a changing economy, the “She-session” and the Great Resignation. A movement in every sector and every community, with women and people of color at the center, where every working person has the right to a good, sustainable, union job.

TWU is leading, with its commitment to equality in the workplace and investments in the next generation through the Future Leaders Organizing Committee. And thanks to John’s innovation as a leader, TWU has a culture of activism and organizing we want to see throughout the entire labor movement.

Together, we will leverage our power for transformations.

When CEOs are taking 299 times what the average worker earns as frontline workers are making poverty wages. And when people are working two and three jobs to make ends meet, when one job should be enough. The labor movement is the counterforce to that inequality. We will balance the economy.

And we are the single most powerful vehicle for progress in the United States.

If the question is how do we propel more people into middle-class union jobs, strong unions are the answer. The progress we make, as one united movement lifts up every working person in this country.

We have everything lined up right now. This is our moment. The public is with us. An overwhelming majority—68 percent of Americans and 77 percent of young people—support labor unions. That’s the highest approval ratings in over half a century.

People who have never thought about it before are starting to see that they’re working people, too. Working people are standing up and taking risks, in the workplace and in our communities. We have the most pro union administration in history. And with Rep. [Mark] Pocan leading our pro-union champions in Congress, this is our opportunity to invest in working people and the critical infrastructure we rely on to go to work.

We need to invest in our transit and rail systems, airports, highways, bridges and tunnels, and our care systems, too.

We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reverse decades of neglect, cut emissions, build climate resilience and create safer working conditions.

We can build an Amtrak for this century and future ones. And by investing in our transit systems, we will create thousands of good paying, union jobs.

Work connects all of us and these union jobs will empower other working people and their communities connected to the economic lifeline of safe and reliable transit.

We want high labor standards, worker safety and to make sure we benefit from our taxpayer investments.

We must end the dangerous foreign outsourcing of aircraft maintenance and more than that, let’s return foreign aircraft maintenance to the U.S.

We have the most skilled aircraft mechanics in the world—this union built the gold standard for safe air travel—it is time to end the perverse policies that invite offshoring of these jobs and jeopardize the safety of the flying public.

We need the PRO Act and the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act. These bills will remove barriers like the fear of getting fired when we stand together with our co-workers and try to organize a union.

Just look at bikeshare systems: TWU is doing outstanding work to organize this emerging sector. But despite taking public funding, management treats bikeshare workers as temporary, replaceable and non-essential, and they want to stop organizing efforts.

The PRO Act would also put an end to the employee misclassification that platform companies like Uber, Lyft and DoorDash have used to build their exploitive models. These companies spent $200 million to mislead California voters about misclassification. It’s part of a coordinated effort to undermine democracy at the ballot box and in our workplace. Thankfully, a judge just ruled Prop 22 unconstitutional.

But we have to be proactive to prevent job-killing tech, from companies using technology to replace or exploit us. We have to ensure public funding isn’t undermining labor rights for public transportation workers and that we have a say in how technology is used. It’s a public safety issue—the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration just added the twelfth crash to its investigation of Tesla’s autopilot system.

That’s why TWU is leading a groundbreaking campaign focused on the future of work. Your effort is on the cutting edge—you are doing what needs to be done to prepare for the future, to secure a voice at the bargaining table about how and when new technology is used in your transit and other workplaces.

Change doesn’t come easy, but with a plan you can shape it. As new technology is evolving we want to get ahead of it as a movement. We don’t want technology to replace jobs or have Big Tech make all the decisions.

We want to put worker perspective and voice in every step of the innovation process. We want technology to complement and support human beings who are doing the work. I think of this as collective creation—we can co-create with technology.

I also want to applaud your efforts, working together with TTD, to build a strong, unified labor coalition around the future of both autonomous and electric vehicles, focused on good policies that address the entire supply chain, from workers in manufacturing to operations and maintenance.

TWU is making it loud and clear—workers want progress but we want to shape our future. And we will work hard, dig deep and leverage the full might of our movement for our Workers First Agenda. Because this isn’t just about unions. It’s about fairness, it’s about the fundamental economic power of working people in the United States. And you are moving the American economy forward, keeping the travelers safe and putting power behind worker voice.

I am so hopeful for our future. Our movement can build an America where every working person has access to the life-changing power of a good, sustainable, union job.

Keep going. Keep up the great work. We’re just getting started. I am so excited to see where we go from here. Thank you, Transport Workers Union!

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