AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler delivered the following remarks as prepared virtually to the United Federation of Teachers HERstory celebration event:
Thank you, Janella [Hinds], for that introduction and for your dedication and leadership. I think I see your President Michael Mulgrew on as well – I wanted to say thank you not only for your incredible leadership at UFT, but also of the broader labor movement in New York City, and of course at the CLC table. The UFT leads the way for all of us, and I’m so honored to be with you for this wonderful event.
Hello everyone out there in virtual world, and Happy Women’s History Month! Or should I say HERstory month?
I’m so excited to be with you to recognize the accomplishments and legacy of women in our movement and beyond.
And a woman I certainly look to as an example of bold leadership is your national AFT President Randi Weingarten. When people use the word “tireless” I think of Randi because she is leading in every important fight, and inspires me each and every day. And boy are we in need of inspiration…
These last couple of years have been, how shall I say it…challenging, to say the least. It felt like we were being hit from all sides…from politics to the pandemic…and per usual, working women took the brunt of it.
Women kept our country running throughout the pandemic. And that includes every woman joining us today….our healers and educators who worked in our hospitals and homes and schools and were there for our communities when we needed it most.
I want to thank you for everything you’ve sacrificed. You are absolutely essential—and not just during a pandemic.
But so much more is owed than just saying thank you.
Women have been underpaid, undervalued, and expected to take on most of the unpaid work at home even since before the pandemic.
And this balancing act that many working women have been pulling off for decades—between home and work, kids and career—has become even more complicated. For the past two years, many working women have lived in a world of constantly shifting schedules and mounting uncertainty.
Our situations have gotten harder, not easier.
But we kept fighting. We kept showing up to work, showing up for our families and showing up for our communities.
And if the pandemic taught us one thing, it’s that you – our teachers and counselors, nurses and therapists, lab technicians and aides and more – you are the glue – you hold our communities together.
America knows that. And your union family knows that and we will be sure to remind management and public administrators of your commitment and dedication to our communities if you do not get the gratitude and appreciation you deserve as heroes.
As you saw earlier in that great video, we will remind them at the bargaining table. And if we need to, we will remind them arm in arm, loud and proud in the streets.
Because you deserve better pay and working conditions…and the resources you need to care for your patients and teach your students. Because we will not allow hospitals to put profits over people. Or allow our education system to be underfunded and risk the future of the next generation….and risk the future of these noble professions.
I have heard from a number of health care workers and educators that they are considering changing careers…not because they want to...but because the demands and working conditions have become untenable…. And that is an absolute tragedy.
And I have also heard it over and over again that many people – mainly women – have been sidelined during the pandemic because they’re primary caregivers. The child care system in our country is woefully insufficient and that has to be fixed.
Because this isn’t just a women’s issue. This is a family issue. This is a working person's issue. This is a core economic issue. The pandemic made that clear. Care work makes all other jobs possible. That’s the bottom line.
And care jobs should be good jobs with livable wages, benefits and protections.
None of these are new issues of course. For generations, working women have gritted their teeth and persevered. Despite unaffordable child care, undervalued labor, unequal pay. We simply kept going—because that’s what we had to do.
So it doesn’t come as a surprise that working women found hope in our unions. A voice on the job. The power of the collective where equal pay and benefits like paid family leave are the norm, and a work culture where everyone is treated with dignity and respect.
And we found in our unions a strong support network that helped us through tough times, challenged us to go after what we deserved, and pushed us to take on leadership roles.
I would not be here without that network of support. Women in our movement who lift each other up and help each other step into leadership roles.
I had the privilege of being mentored by so many in the movement. From my first organizing job at Portland General Electric where I helped my mom and the other female clerical workers join a union…to the role I’m in today…and every turn along the way there has been a hand extended to pull me up.
For me and so many other women, that support has been life-sustaining.
That is what we must do, especially for the young women who are new to our movement and are starting out in their own careers.
And to the men out there – you can be our allies in this as well!
We all have a responsibility to turn around and pull up the person behind us.
We should always be laser-focused on recruiting and retaining our women members…not only through apprenticeships and leadership programs but also by creating an environment where women can thrive.
The truth is that women have always been a force in our movement. We were instrumental in shaping it into an effective vehicle for transforming the lives of working people. But many of our contributions have not been recognized.
Now we have an opportunity to empower women and give us leadership in ALL its forms.
We do that by expanding the model of leadership. We don’t have to mimic a masculine style in order to be an effective leader. We can redefine what leadership looks like. And in doing so, we redefine the labor movement.
Across the country and right here in New York, women are speaking truth to corporate power.
We are out in front.
We are raising our voices on the picket lines and leading strikes and organizing drives.
This is what a bold, inclusive and modern labor movement looks like. A movement that is reflective of the workforce, with women, particularly women of color, at the center of everything we do.
A movement where young people can find unity and solidarity and activism…and develop into leaders and make lasting change.
We have the chance to rise from the ashes of the pandemic stronger than before and reimagine an economy that works for working people. Everyone included, no one left behind.
And a strong, unified labor movement is the force to achieve that dream.
Let’s take the necessary steps to become an unstoppable force for transformation and progress.
Let’s continue to partner, collaborate and learn from each other.
We can achieve so much more…together.
Thank you, women of UFT! I am so excited to see where we go from here.