Liz Schuler, the acting president of the AFL-CIO, America’s largest labor federation, has said workers are “not going back like they were before COVID-19”. She notes that the climate crisis and technology have had a huge impact on the workplace, and she sees a supportive Biden administration in Washington, DC reflecting growing public support for unions amid a favorable political climate for organized labor. Points to elections.
This article presents the highlights of a discussion between Schuler and Julia Love, labor and technical reporters for Reuters. This took place on October 14, 2021 in a session entitled “Help Wanted: Workers Demand More to Rejoin the Economy,” a virtual conference organized by the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing (SABEW), “The Future of the Economy” is part of. Work: The Changing Global Workforce and How It’s Reshaping Business.”
SABEW is based at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University in Phoenix, Arizona. Its chairman is Caleb Silver, editor-in-chief of Investopedia.
Key comments from AFL-CIO Acting President Liz Schuler
- “We don’t have a shortage of workers, but good, well-paying jobs.”
- “Many businesses remain stubbornly focused on cutting labor costs … even at the cost of their bottom line and sustainability.”
- “Unions are a way for people to come together and change the balance of power.”
- About Amazon, “What can be done when workplaces are essentially managed by apps, and there’s no one to talk to?”
- “The most effective way to introduce technology is to get workers involved.”
- Organized labor aims to “make a fair deal that benefits everyone: businesses, workers, and the community.”
Liz Shuler. About this
Elizabeth H. Schuler is the first woman to preside over the AFL-CIO, which now has 57 member associations (the latest being the Association of Professional Women’s Football Players) and 12.5 million individual members. He was named acting president by the AFL-CIO Executive Council on August 20, 2021, following the death of his predecessor, Richard Trumka. A new election for the President will be held in 2022. She was the AFL-CIO’s secretary-treasurer, its second-ranking official, since 2009, and previously held several positions with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW).
The session began with some opening remarks from Liz Shuler. Noting that a lot of attention is being paid to the “great resignation” of workers from the workforce, he said another significant development recently is the wave of strikes of thousands of workers in various industries.
“We need to rebalance the scales and put workers at the center of the economy… Working people are beginning to feel a new sense of power… Too many businesses are stubbornly focused on cutting labor costs… even That bottom line and stability even at their cost.”
A particular concern for Schuler is the plight of workers who made cuts and sacrifices to keep their companies afloat during the pandemic, but are now being treated poorly. “We don’t have a shortage of workers, but good, well-paying jobs,” she said.
Noting that opinion polls are recording the highest approval rates for labor unions since 1965, especially among youth, Schuler also indicated that organized labor aims to “make a fair deal that benefits all.” does: businesses, workers and communities.”
question and answer
Following Liz Schuler’s opening remarks, the next session took the form of questions asked by Julia Love of Reuters, either herself or other conference attendees. Some highlights are presented below.
Q: In this tight labor market, workers are more leveraged. How can unions help?
A: “Unions are a way for people to come together and shift the balance of power … We have done this successfully since our inception … We will continue to develop … The labor union movement is the best way to do it. The effective way is … going it alone will not work.”
Q: Some strikes have been due to forced overtime and poor working conditions. What can the labor movement do to get back to the 40-hour week?
A: “We’re still fighting for the weekend but we have our eyes on the future… Workers’ voices aren’t essential in change in the workplace… The most effective way to introduce technology is to get workers involved… We fight for a seat at the table.” Arguing, one voice.”
Schuler then gave an example of a strike at Marriott when workers demanded a say on the introduction of the technology. “It is in everyone’s interest to ensure that workers are not left out.”
Q: Many unions are gearing up to organize Amazon warehouse and delivery services. What can be done?
A: “What can be done when workplaces are essentially managed by apps, and there’s no one to talk to… you feel so powerless.”
She called the organizing effort at Amazon “absolutely heroic” and said that Amazon “violated the law” in firing workers for trying to organize.
“Algorithmic management” is a growing issue, and the labor movement must be more “constructive” in response. “Amazon is an example of new and growing industries that are using technologies in ways earlier than anticipated.”
Q: How about [Protecting the Right to Organize] Pro-Act?
A: “The Pro-Act will give us labor legislation for this century… It has passed the House in a bipartisan vote and has 60% public support… We support the abolition of filibuster in the Senate.. .We will keep campaigning and bringing forward.”
Q: What are the tactics employers are using to break up unions?
A: “There’s an entire industry of union-busting consultants… Amazon uses all three at once.”
Schuler noted that Amazon uses monitoring whenever employees congregate for any period, including warnings issued by instant messaging. She also indicated that Amazon has also changed the timing of stop lights outside its sites to prevent workers from talking to organizers, while also using the old strategy of firing leaders of the organizing effort.
Q: What changes are happening to work contracts as a result of the pandemic?
A: Schuler cites demands for protective equipment as an example, saying that nurses still face shortages and are overworked. “Hospitals aren’t getting staffed because of profit pressure… it’s unsustainable.”
She also said that hazard pay has gone away at the start of the pandemic, as well as protections around mandatory overtime.
In the meantime, she sees, especially among younger workers, efforts to change employer practices that could negatively impact climate change. Along with this, there has also been a fight over sexual abuse.
Question: What are the other major concerns for organized labor?
A: “How the union movement can evolve to deal with change in the workplace.”
“We haven’t allowed the law to regulate how workers organize … Since then, we’ve seen the National Labor Relations Act stripped down by employers.”
“We are using technology to our advantage… to put the organizers and technologists in the same room… want to organize the most effective campaigns… to transform the culture of our institution into an organizing mode… Most young people don’t know what a union is… We must show them what a union can do for them and how they can connect.”
“The best way to demonstrate the power of the union at this time is these strikes are what we see now… When companies used to do well, they used to share it with workers… It’s broken now… We have a lot of opportunity to show the youth that this is our moment.”