The IBEW’s Liz Shuler was
unanimously re-elected to a third term as secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO on
Oct. 22 alongside AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and Executive Vice President
The opening day of the labor organization’s 2017 convention saw more than 1,200 delegates gather in St. Louis to celebrate working people and to conduct the business of the 11 million-member federation.
International President Lonnie R. Stephenson nominated Sister Shuler, drawing attention to her many accomplishments during both her time at the IBEW and in her last eight years at the AFL-CIO.
As executive assistant to then-International President Edwin D. Hill, Stephenson said, Shuler played a pivotal role in launching the IBEW’s Code of Excellence, a program that continues to guide the way members conduct themselves on the job and to shine a positive light on the quality of union workers. Prior to that, Stephenson recalled Shuler’s tireless efforts as an organizer, taking on corporate greed at Enron and fighting anti-worker paycheck deception laws in California.
As AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer, Stephenson highlighted Shuler’s financial stewardship during difficult times, her work helping to build the Young Workers Advisory Council and her efforts to modernize the organization’s digital communications operation.
“Liz has always kept her eyes on the future, and on what the AFL-CIO needs to do next to remain a powerful and relevant voice for working people,” Stephenson said.
In her acceptance speech, Shuler – a member of Portland, Ore., Local 125 – stressed the importance of organized labor adapting to a changing world and leading rather than resisting change.
“How do we fight for good jobs when they are increasingly automated or distorted as the nation’s social compact is under relentless attack?” she asked. “Just focusing on protecting what we have is far more dangerous than taking risks.
“When automation threatens millions of jobs in the not-too-distant future...we can’t afford to be cautious. When millions of people use their power online to oust CEOs and advocate for change, we need to harness that activism and use it to build a massive movement of working people.
“Together,” she said, “we can build the support, leadership and encouragement for more unions to get in the game, experiment and find new strategies for success.”
In his speech, Trumka encouraged working people to use their collective power to stand up to the well-heeled special interests in Washington. “Our opponents are tough,” he said. “But their deep pockets can’t overcome our deep passion for a fairer and more just nation. I say, bring it on!”
Trumka also talked up the “Workers’ Bill of Rights,” a framework the AFL-CIO plans to develop in the coming days and to promote in the year leading up to the 2018 elections. In 2012, Hill proposed a similar measure at a rally in Philadelphia, echoing economic themes articulated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt nearly 70 years earlier.
The idea, Trumka told reporters, is to lay out union priorities clearly for politicians and to hold them to the promises they make. Better wages, better trade agreements and safer working conditions are a part of the agenda that the AFL-CIO, affiliated unions and working people plan to emphasize to candidates for higher office.
“People that support that Workers’ Bill of Rights will get our support,” Trumka said. “Those that don’t – we’re sorry. We’re going to use our resources and our power to help people get elected that support the needs of workers.”
On Day 2 of the convention, Stephenson participated in a press conference with other union leaders where he stressed the importance of union members as active members of their communities, whether they’re fixing the lights on a Little League field or rebuilding devastated areas following hurricanes and wildfires.
“Worker solidarity doesn’t end at the union hall parking lot,” he said. “It must touch every working family.”
Follow along with the 2017 AFL-CIO convention – including live video of many events – at the federation’s Twitter page.