The president of the AFL-CIO asserted that unions are “on the rise” and touted new polling data in her first address ahead of Labor Day.
AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler delivered the remarks in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday and heralded recent unionization wins, calling the event “a new Labor Day tradition." The speech emphasized U.S. support for unions and predicted growth in the coming years for the labor movement.
“For a long time, working people in this country have felt powerless. They’ve been powerless,” she said. “Working people are reclaiming our power. Working people are taking on the companies that have exploited us for a long time now.
“So, the state of the unions? The state of the unions is on the rise,” Shuler added to applause from the crowd.
The AFL-CIO released new polling on unions that was released to coincide with the inaugural speech. The polling found that seven in 10 people support unions, including 90% of Democrats and a majority of Republicans.
“Do you know how hard it is to get two-thirds of Americans to agree on anything? Let me put it another way. More Americans believe in unions than like chocolate ice cream,” Shuler said.
A key emphasis in the address was how the research found that 88% of people under the age of 30 view unions in a favorable light, something she said bodes well for the future growth of organized labor.
In her speech, Shuler hit the familiar talking points from pro-union activists, including the wage gap between ordinary workers and the executives of companies.
“We have corporate greed and inequality at levels we have never seen before,” she asserted.
The union boss said that 70 years ago, the average CEO earned about 20 times the earnings of the average U.S. worker. She said that number has since ballooned and that now, CEOs earn 277 times on average what most workers make.
Shuler also railed against jobs being moved overseas and lamented declines in the country’s manufacturing base, complaints that aren’t just made on the Left but also have increasingly been echoed among the populist Right, with politicians such as former President Donald Trump pushing for more isolationist trade policies.
The AFL-CIO president spoke about recent “historic” union victories, including fresh new contracts for UPS employees. After a period of tense negotiations, and with the threat of a strike looming, the Teamsters union and UPS reached an agreement on a contract package that boosted wages in addition to other changes.
“They stood their ground, and they won,” Shuler said.
She also mentioned the unionization wave sweeping Starbucks across the country.
In late 2020, the first Starbucks store in the U.S. voted to unionize. That set off a wave of other efforts at stores across the country, and now, workers at the company have won union elections at some 300 locations.
Shuler, in noting the growing interest in union organizing, said there have been more than 200 strikes so far this year involving some 320,000 workers. That number is 10 times more than just two years ago, she told the crowd.
Additionally, last week, the United Auto Workers union overwhelmingly voted to authorize a strike, setting the stage for more intense contract negotiations in the coming weeks. The UAW voted by a 97% margin to give the green light to a strike, which could come as soon as the contracts expire on Sept. 14.
The AFL-CIO event comes a day after the White House unveiled a report on unions that extolled the virtues of organized labor. The Treasury Department report found that unions raise the wages of their members by 10% to 15% and improve benefits for workers compared to nonunionized workplaces.
“For generations, union workers have fought for and won higher wages, better benefits, and safer workplace conditions for millions of American workers,” Vice President Kamala Harris said on a Monday call with reporters. “Union organizing and collective bargaining has made it possible for so many working families to buy a home, build a future, and retire with dignity.”