Politics Adding organization and members to the newly elected AFL-CIO...

Adding organization and members to the newly elected AFL-CIO president is a top goal


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AFL-CIO President Elizabeth Schuler introduced President Biden before addressing a convention of the Labor Federation in Philadelphia on Tuesday. On Sunday, Schuller was elected AFL-CIO president for a four-year term.

Susan Walsh / AP

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Susan Walsh / AP

AFL-CIO President Elizabeth Schuler introduced President Biden before addressing a convention of the Labor Federation in Philadelphia on Tuesday. On Sunday, Schuller was elected AFL-CIO president for a four-year term.

Susan Walsh / AP

The country’s largest labor federation made history on Sunday when Elizabeth Schuler became the first female president of the AFL-CIO.

The second hurdle at the union’s convention in Philadelphia was also broken when Fred Redmond became the federation’s highest-ranking black officer. He was elected Secretary-Treasurer of AFL-CIO’s No. 2 Leadership.

President Biden, who often associates himself with the labor movement, Spoke at the convention On Tuesday, he praised Schuler’s work and credited him with building the American middle class and honoring the working people.

Schuller was elected for a four-year term, but has been serving as AFL-CIO president since last year, following the untimely death of her predecessor, Richard Trumka.

In her speech at the convention, Schuler promised to expand the recent integrated drive – from high technology to retail to the service industry.

“Nineteen thousand barristers at Starbucks across the country are reclaiming what it means to be a partner. And corporate and retail workers are coming together to organize at Apple,” she said.

Schuller said workers are gaining strength in the face of labor shortages and are demanding respect after being classified as “essential employees” during epidemics.

She said it was hurting the economy. “Museum and stadium workers, teachers and students, hotel workers and bus drivers. Capitol Hill staff and cannabis workers. We are seeing successful organization.”

Schuler promises a large-scale grassroots campaign with the goal of adding 1 million new union members over the next decade. This is a big task given the decades-long trend of declining union membership rates in the US.

At the same time, the new AFL-CIO leadership is promising to re-engage workers in Washington, DC, and state legislatures and local offices across the country to support pro-union policies and candidates. Schuller said union members would be very active in this year’s midterm elections, but that efforts would be needed throughout the year, not just during election years, to get results.

Schuler and Redmond took the NPR a few hours after their selection. Here is an edited excerpt of the conversation:

Don Gonia: I would like to talk to each of you about the milestone of this moment. The first woman to be elected to lead the largest trade union and the first African American to be elected secretary-treasurer. What does this mean in terms of history, but also in a very practical sense?

Schuler: Well, we are in a moment of labor movement where we are eager to see the momentum around us, the workers are getting up and organizing all kinds of industries, all kinds of work.

So Fred and I are just tweaking ourselves because we are on the floor of this convention and are leaders in the entire labor movement and with a commitment to redoubling organization and growth. And that’s why I see this opportunity and now the focus in this leadership position is on work.

[To Redmond] I think in your speech you made the point that this is the working class. One that is made up of growing women and people of color.

Redmond: The working class is changing. We will see women as 50% trade unions across the country. Millennials make up 50% of all workers, and between the ages of eight and 10 it is estimated that more than 50% of all workers in this country will be people of color. So when you look at the dynamics, the leadership elected today, a woman and an African American, reflects the fact that workplaces are changing.

Schuler: And I think of the epidemic, and at the forefront, the essential workers, the weird women and people of color who have gotten us out of this epidemic, who have had to bear a huge burden in caring for their families, children and the elderly, the disabled. Without that safety net. That is what the labor movement is all about. We are at the forefront of advocating for those paid sick days and ensuring that women get equal pay. So this is a great example of how the labor movement has become more relevant than ever.

How will this organization be different under your leadership? You are the third AFL-CIO president I have ever sat with. I remember talking to President John Sweeney at one such convention [in 1999]And had several conversations with President Richard Trumpka [who died last August]. Both talked about organizing and both worked hard for it. But here we sit with union membership. So what needs to be different?

Schuller: I think what happened in the past is that the federations ended up in front, and the unions themselves did not follow the plan or they were not all synchronized. This is going to change because we are actually building consensus. We are creating an integrated plan that includes everyone.

[To Redmond] Have you seen what President Schuller is describing as you move beyond the ranks of your union? [United Steelworkers]? Maybe a top-down approach is too much?

Redmond: My leadership style and Liz’s style is such that we don’t have all the answers, but we can identify the problem. So our leadership style is one where we try to bring people together, to build consensus. I think it’s missing.

Schuller: We are at a different moment in the country than our predecessors, and we have a much stronger recognition from the people. Fifty-eight percent, including 77% of young people, have approved the union [per Gallup]. We have this pro-union administration where the president of the United States is speaking the word union and we have workers who are bored, fired, they are getting up. So what is different at the moment is the environment in which we are operating.

In your acceptance speech at the meeting you announced the creation of something called “CTO” …

Schuller: Yes, the transformation planning center.

Is it something real or just another call to action?

Shuler: This is our first 100 day plan. We are also committed to organizing millions of new members over the next 10 years so that we can hold each other accountable – year after year – with the goals we have identified for each union. And we’re laser-focused on coming together to achieve those goals. And as I said, it will be cross-union collaboration, resources and investment. And the actual metrics that relate to it, because I’m with you, I want results. I don’t want comprehensive plans that will just be announced and no one will follow them. So we have a real commitment to our largest union.

Target of one million new members. From that point of view, we now have about 12 1/2 million, that is an increase of about 8 or 9%?

Schuler: That’s right.

You have seen the success of the recent organization, but also the defeat. This is Amazon Local, but not Amazon Local. And it’s even a piece.

Schuler: We think that the federation could be the real center of gravity for organizing the whole movement.

The mid-term elections of 2022 will be crucial to the union’s agenda – strong labor protection, labor laws conducive to concerted efforts. President Biden is a staunch supporter of Labor, but the vote suggests it could be a difficult year for Democrats. What are the plans to get Union voters out this year?

Schuller: We are taking an organizational approach to our politics. We’re coming back to the bottom in a way that we haven’t had in a long time, which is what we’re trying to do. We don’t talk as much about candidates as we do about issues.

We are currently in such a polarizing environment in the politics of this country. We think that the labor movement can be a place where we can overcome that division.

It all seems really old-fashioned. Especially when people are living in their own social media news bubbles. In fact, they love those bubbles. They should get their votes strengthened.

Schuler: Everyone will tell you that in algorithms, people are trapped in a false bubble of misinformation, misinformation. And so the only way we can break it is to talk to each other, and people don’t do that anymore. And the labor movement can be a place where we actually get information and be a reliable source, and you have someone you trust who you work with day in and day out and can talk to you about problems and have real conversations that might not be necessary. Sync with your Facebook page.

Redmond: We lost a lot of members [with their votes] In 2016 and 2020 because members received misinformation through the news media. We think that in these conversations, we can be the center of gravity to give people accurate information about how things are affecting things in this economy, who is responsible for gas prices or inflation – if anyone is responsible. And if we have a discussion with our people, you can make them think of the best way for them in November.

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