Speech | Gender Equality

Shuler: UFCW Women Are on the Rise

AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler delivered the following remarks to the UFCW Women's Network 14th Convention:

Hello UFCW women’s network! I’m so excited to be with you today, even if it’s still by Zoom.

I want to thank your international president Marc Perrone. Throughout this pandemic he’s been a tireless and constant force for working people, and a thought partner and source of strength as we chart a path forward for the federation.

And big thank you to all my Canadian siblings, and UFCW Canada President Paul Meinema, for your leadership to make UFCW a powerhouse for working families across North America.

A big thank you to Deliana for your hard work, dedication and drive. I loved hearing about the focus on mentorship and bringing up the next generation in the union! And to everyone at the UFCW Women’s Network, THANK YOU.

This conference is an incubator for the organizing and activism that’s moving women to the center in our unions, at work and in the economy.

I attended a Women’s network convention many moons ago, and I looked back and it was in San Diego in 2014. At that time, we were focused on getting more women elected to public office and into leadership roles in the labor movement.

We still have a long way to go to get to gender equity, but just think for a minute about how far we’ve traveled in those 7 years.

Women are upholding our democracy at the ballot box and in our workplaces.

We have the highest number of women ever in Congress and a pro-worker majority.

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris is the first woman and multiracial person to serve in the second highest office in the country. And she says the word “union” everywhere she goes.

Today, more women are serving in leadership in UFCW local unions and the international union.

And UFCW women are getting us through the pandemic. Working on the frontlines in grocery stores, in packing and processing plants, retail stores, pharmacies, healthcare centers and more.

In the darkest, hardest part of the pandemic, you worked overtime to feed and care and provide for this country.

In this incredible moment Women have been out in front, leading strikes and marching on picket lines—like UFCW distillery workers in Kentucky.

Everyone is asking, “what’s happening?” Well you know what’s happening—the labor movement is driving a nationwide reckoning. We’re standing up and taking risks to fix what’s broken. And it’s capturing the national imagination.

They’re calling it Striketober because 100,000 union members are either on strike or willing to go on strike across industries in places all over the country.

We just got polling data—75 percent of voters agree: Working people can and should join together to win a better deal and a better life.

It takes courage to go on strike. Women across the labor movement are standing up and showing solidarity on the picket lines with their fellow union members, to let them know that we have their back and we’re going to use the full power of our movement to help. them. WIN.

We want to show all those workers out there, especially young workers not yet in unions, that it’s worth it. That the power of a union means when you walk out with your co-workers, you can return together with better wages, benefits and working conditions.

In fact, just a few days ago those Heaven Hill distillery workers voted to end a 6 week strike. The tentative agreement:

  • keeps affordable healthcare,
  • increases pay,
  • maintains overtime,
  • and strengthens retirement security.

That’s thanks to the UFCW, the leading voice for Kentucky frontline workers.

We want every working woman in this country to see and know that union difference. That when they stand together with their coworkers in unions they can win.

That’s why women are also stepping up as organizers. Look at the organizing drive at Amazon in Bessemer, Alabama.

Black women led, courageously organized, stood up and said we are not robots, we deserve to be treated with dignity.

That campaign was about fundamental worker power, inequality, racial and gender justice.

And we know that wasn’t the end, it was just the powerful beginning. Whatever the next step is, bring it on, the entire labor movement will be there every step of the way!

I got my own start in the labor movement by mobilizing and organizing for equity. Clerical workers (nearly all women) at the electric utility where I worked weren’t treated with the same respect as the power linemen because they were in the union. So we organized. I realized pretty quickly that women sticking together is a pretty powerful thing.

And I’ve reached this leadership point through a simple but important strategy: working with and standing on the shoulders of the women in our movement.

I would not be here without that network of support. Women who lift each other up and help each other step into leadership roles.

That’s one of the superpowers of the UFCW Women’s Network.

Now is our time—women are on the rise. And I promise you this:

We are building a bold and inclusive movement with women and people of color at the center.

We are using an intersectional lens to challenge the roles we play and the stereotypes about how we define leadership.

It doesn’t always have to be pounding a lectern or beating your chest or pointing a finger at an elected official. We can bring a different leadership style and it’s just as powerful.

Women are leading out front, and women are also leading behind the scenes in workplaces all across the country.

We’re using the power of our unions to make sure our voices are heard. We’re speaking up about issues that matter to us, our co-workers, families and communities.

There’s one thing that keeps me awake at night, and it’s that we need to grow our movement—not for selfish reasons, but because we are the counterforce to skyrocketing inequality. Putting power on the side of working people through unions is how we balance the scales in our economy. And the most powerful way to do that is to pass the PRO Act and the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act.

A union contract is the best way to close pay gaps, guarantee equal pay and fight discrimination at work.

We want good, sustainable union jobs. But to get them, women need to be able to stand together with coworkers in unions without the fear of getting fired.

The PRO Act and Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act will eliminate those barriers by holding union-busting employers accountable with real penalties.

Imagine the organizing potential we can unlock. In fact, the labor movement is already the largest organization of working women in the country. We’re 6.5 million strong. And growing.

For the women on the frontlines—or those who’ve been sidelined—for the rising generation—and for the women who are worried about retirement—

I want every working woman in every kind of job to see they have a place in our movement.

Women are on track to be the majority of union members by 2025. We’re on track to see more women lead—thanks to the great work of the UFCW Women’s network.

And with the bold, powerful and dynamic labor movement we’re building now, we’re going to make life better for every working woman in this country.

I can’t wait to come back to this conference in the future and we will be talking about all the progress we’ve made from this point forward.

I can’t wait to see where we go from here! Thank you and keep up the incredible work!

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