AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler delivered the following remarks at the Working People's Day of Action:
Thank you very much. There’s no place I’d rather be than right here with you. Because, I’m reminded today of what Dr. King once said:
“A man dies when he refuses to stand up for that which is right. A man dies when he refuses to stand up for justice. A man dies when he refuses to take a stand for that which is true.”
Well, today, we’re standing up for what’s right. We’re standing up for justice. And, we’re standing up for the truth.
On Monday, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in Janus vs. AFSCME. And, we’re here to make one thing clear: working people will not be silenced. We’re going to speak up and tell the truth about this case.
The agenda behind Janus is simple: more power for big corporations and fewer rights for the rest of us. Period. This fight isn't about one man in Illinois. It's about the single mom who relies on a strong union to bargain a decent wage. It's about the safety and economic security of a firefighter who puts their life on the line every day. It's about the teacher who wonders whether they might have to do the same. Last week in Parkland, Florida, a football coach named Aaron Feis lost his life by throwing himself in front of bullets to protect his students. His act of courage is a reminder that we should be expanding rights for our public servants, not taking them away.
Today we are standing up for the everyday American heroes who protect and educate us, who care for us when we’re sick, who make our government run and who keep our communities strong. That's what working people do everyday. That's what hard working union members do every day to make lives better for everyone.
Corporations are threatening this dignity in pursuit of the almighty dollar. They want to to concentrate wealth in the hands of the few, while keeping us poor, weak and divided. Janus isn’t the first attack on our rights. And it won’t be the last. We have a huge target on our back because we are the most powerful force for working families on the planet. Unions built the middle class, won retirement security, created safe workplaces and defined what a fair economy could look like for the free world. If we are truly irrelevant, as the corporate right-wing keeps saying, then why are they so obsessed with destroying us?
They know that this will hurt working people. Women will be hit hardest by a bad decision in this case, especially African American women. While Janus is a broad attempt to undermine working people, it is also a direct assault on those in the public sector. Black women make up nearly 18 percent of public sector workers.
This would only add insult to injury as black women already face a double pay gap based on race and gender, earning only 67 cents on the dollar compared to a white man.
One of those men, Mark Janus, wants to make life harder for those who have chosen public service. I think if Mr. Janus doesn’t like the pay, benefits and rights negotiated by his union, he should give a non-union shop a try and leave us alone!
But, no matter what he and his corporate friends do, we have the power to make this Janus case irrelevant. What if we unleashed a new national campaign to demonstrate the value of our unions! Our public sector sisters and brothers are already doing this. And it’s working. The labor movement’s popularity is higher than it’s been in nearly two decades. As Janus reaches the highest court in the land, this is a moment to ask ourselves: what are the new ways we can make unions relevant and essential to someone’s life?
Remember, it’s unions who are winning equal pay and protection from discrimination and sexual harassment in our contracts as politicians fail to make even the slightest progress. It’s unions who provide the cutting edge training and education that helps workers ladder up to better jobs without a mountain of college debt. It’s unions who are helping to rebuild Puerto Rico and Texas and Florida and and all the places struck by natural disaster. And it is unions and our members who are often first to respond when a mass shooting occurs.
If we demonstrate value, we become essential. And Janus loses its teeth, because workers will want to join us.
Let’s demonstrate our value every day. Let’s organize. Let’s bargain. Let’s continue to lift up our families and communities. Let’s learn from our failures and build on our successes.
We have the power to determine our economic future. On Monday, lawyers are going to be busy trying to persuade five people down the street. Well, I want each of you to do the same. Talk to five people. Talk to five of your friends and relatives—your co-workers and neighbors—maybe even a total stranger. And, don’t just talk to lifelong union members. Talk to young people working their first job. Talk to people who have never considered joining a union before. Show five people why unions matter. Show them what unions have done for you—and what unions can do for them.
Because I can tell you one thing with certainty: if we show our value and tell our story, no court case will be able to stop us.
Thank you very much.