Shuler: Veterans Are Powerful Voices in Our Unions

AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler delivered the following remarks as prepared to the Union Veterans Council:

Hi everyone, I’m Liz Shuler. President of the AFL-CIO.

Thank you so much for joining us.

The AFL-CIO family is 57 unions with 12.5 million working people all across the country including more than 1 million veterans.

Our Union Veterans Council is launching a campaign to engage, educate, and mobilize our veteran’s community.

We’ll officially roll it out on Veterans Day, but we want to start telling the stories of resilience and success of our union veterans now.

I’ll share mine. My dad was a member of IBEW Local 125 and a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps.

He grew up poor, working in the orchards of Hood River Oregon where his family lived in a one room fruit picking shack. He and his four siblings often went hungry.

To help make ends meet, started working at age 12, sandblasting tombstones.

He signed up to join the Marine Corps right out of high school, and was deployed straight to Vietnam.

When he returned, he faced the question most veterans do: now what?

A union lineman apprenticeship program put him on the path to a good job at Portland General Electric.

And that job put our family on the path to the middle class.

Unions are transformational.

In one generation, the union difference meant not having to worry about a stable roof over our head or having enough to eat.

That’s what drives me every single day:

Every working person in this country, especially our veterans and their families, should have the life-changing power of a good, union job.

As a movement, we build economic power for working people. But more than that, we are a community.

You’re seeing our solidarity on picket lines right now, all across the country.

And when veterans have access to the solidarity and opportunities of the labor movement, they succeed.

They help lead our entire movement forward.

Look at Will Attig.

When he returned from Iraq, he felt lost.

But then he found Helmets to Hardhats—a program that connects transitioning active-duty military service members and veterans to training and career opportunities in the construction industry.

And now, as the Executive Director of the Union Veterans Council, his leadership and dedication are taking our Veteran efforts to a new level.

Thank you so much, Will.

And here’s a little known fact we want everyone to know.

After the U.S. military, the labor movement has the largest job training network in the country.

Our apprenticeship programs are the gold standard and we are laser focused on recruiting veterans.

Veterans like Rachel who, through the United Association’s Veterans In Piping Program, transitioned out of the military, obtained the 8 advanced UA welding certifications before leaving the military to become a journeyperson pipefitter .

I was thrilled she joined me last August at the White House to share her experience.

Once veterans become part of the labor movement, they engage it, they shape it.

And we especially want to invest in the next generation as we build a bold, dynamic and inclusive movement.

Veterans bring invaluable experience to the table.

They’ve served our country and apply that same self-sacrifice and dedication to their unions and our movement: mobilizing to persuade other veterans to vote in 2020; on the picket lines raising their voices; and at the collective bargaining table demanding their fair share.

The labor movement has always engaged and supported veterans, but never at scale, across the entire labor movement. Until now.

We’re engaging our allies too, like Congressman Conor Lamb, a Marine Veteran and labor champion who serves on the powerful transportation and infrastructure committee, and the House Labor Caucus.

He’s a proud sponsor of the PRO Act.

That bill will remove the barriers people face when they try to join a union, like the fear of getting fired. We need to pass the PRO Act, and the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act.

We also need investments in working people and our communities.

That’s why we fully support both the reconciliation and the bipartisan infrastructure bills.

This is the biggest American jobs and job training opportunity in almost 100 years.

And it includes a key piece of the PRO Act. First-of-their-kind penalties for employers who violate our right to organize.

That’s going to help us make sure those jobs are good, union jobs and grow opportunities for veterans.

To all our veterans watching and listening: thank you for your service to our country and for being such an important part of the labor movement.

Next, we’re going to cover how the labor movement can engage our union veteran members.

Here’s the ask for those involved in the AFL-CIO state federations and central labor councils: Create Veteran’s Day events to lift up your veteran members. Let’s see these in every state!

Veteran voices in our unions are so powerful, persuasive and unifying.

Let’s start highlighting our veteran union members now.

I can’t wait to hear stories of veterans succeeding from all across the labor movement.

Thank you!