From June 12-15, SMART joined our 56 fellow AFL-CIO affiliate unions for the 2022 AFL-CIO Convention: the AFL-CIO’s highest decision-making body, where delegates vote on resolutions and constitutional amendments, discuss strategy and chart the course of the federation’s future. As importantly, the convention provided the chance for SMART to gather with other unions to build solidarity and worker power for our members and unionists everywhere.
Organize and rise
The highest-profile order of business at the convention was the election of the federation’s leadership. The SMART delegation proudly stood with the rest of the affiliated unions to nominate and elect Liz Shuler, the first woman elected AFL-CIO president, along with Fred Redmond as the first African American AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer. Together, President Shuler and Secretary-Treasurer Redmond represent the most diverse leadership slate in AFL-CIO history; they also committed to seizing upon a unique moment in labor’s modern history.
Throughout the convention, leaders and members from a wide range of unions looked back on the challenges and victories of the past years, from the fight of union nurses, bus drivers, trades workers and other frontline heroes to get the pay and PPE they deserved in the early stages of the pandemic, to successful strikes at Kellogg’s and John Deere in 2021. Against a backdrop of growing interest in unions — and a political climate in which unions like SMART have been able to win infrastructure investment, an increased number of incoming work hours and federal PLA requirements — Shuler and Redmond dedicated the AFL-CIO to organizing, winning battles and strengthening the labor movement. During her keynote address, Shuler announced the formation of the Center for Transformational Organizing: a federation-wide hub that will help unions grow our membership, secure more work and strengthen our collective bargaining power; crucial for winning the contracts and pensions our members deserve.
“We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It’s not enough to protect what we have; this is about taking risks to define the future on our terms. We are making the jobs of the future union jobs from the start,” Shuler declared. “The rich may try to divide us, but they don’t own our humanity, and they don’t own our future.”
“We are making the jobs of the future union jobs from the start. The rich may try to divide us, but they don’t own our humanity, and they don’t own our future.”
– AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler
Other speakers echoed Shuler’s call, galvanizing delegates to seize this moment. Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams noted the importance of strong unions, explaining: “With labor on the rise, we know that wages will go on the rise. With labor on the case, we know that people’s lives get better.” Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh listed the various wins for workers that the Department of Labor and the current presidential administration have achieved, including 8.7 million jobs added to the economy since January 2021; updated OSHA protections against heat hazards and Department of Labor protections against wage theft and worker misclassification; and more. He urged unions to make the most of this opportunity: “You have the chance to write the next chapter of the labor movement … we need to get out there and organize.”
In addition to leadership and elected officials, union members from across the country and world — including RWDSU members fighting to unionize Amazon in Bessemer, Alabama, as well as trade unionists from Ukraine, Italy, Mexico and more — spoke about the ongoing fight against the corporations who continue to reap profit off the back of the American (and international) worker, regardless of whether it raises prices for working families.
And on Tuesday, President Joe Biden addressed the convention, illustrating the concrete actions his administration has taken in response to the demands of unions like SMART, and outlining his plans for the years ahead. After discussing the American Rescue Plan, which helped protect countless union pension plans, and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law — predicted to bring millions of work hours to SMART members over the next several years — President Biden demanded more from elected representatives.
“I’m calling on Congress to finally pass the PRO Act,” he announced. “We need an economy built from the middle out and the bottom up, not the top down.”
Pointing to the disastrous effects of corporate greed and Vladimir Putin’s brutal invasion of Ukraine on inflation and gas prices, Biden committed to taking any actions necessary to lower prices for working Americans, from building grain silos to raising taxes on the American oligarchy: the 1 percent.
“All I am asking is for the largest corporations to pay their fair share of taxes. No billionaire should be paying a lower tax rate than a teacher.”
– President Joe Biden
“All I am asking is for the largest corporations to pay their fair share of taxes,” he said. “No billionaire should be paying a lower tax rate than a teacher.”
And importantly, he promised to build on the steps already taken as America seeks to rebuild its crumbling infrastructure and continue its bounce-back from the economic collapse of 2020. “You have never let the country down,” Biden reminded the crowd, “and we’re counting on you again to rebuild this country.”
Resolving to fight for our members
During the business side of the convention, SMART delegates voted with other unions to pass a number of resolutions, which officially set the course of the AFL-CIO in the near future. Among the many resolutions passed:
- A resolution to further dedicate the AFL-CIO’s resources to organizing in order to strengthen every union — including SMART — and engage with young workers;
- A resolution to commit to fighting for greater pension protection for America’s workers;<
- A resolution that reprioritizes the battle for a four-day workweek and greater work-life balance — without any loss of pay for workers;
- A resolution to strive, as a collective movement, for the implementation of healthcare for all and the end of family-destroying, for-profit healthcare.
SMART General President Joseph Sellers chaired the Constitutional Committee, which saw the passage of amendments to the AFL-CIO constitution. Under GP Sellers’ leadership, union delegations amended the constitution to bring the federation into the future: eliminating the outdated position of the Executive Vice President from AFL-CIO leadership; modernizing the language of the constitution; expanding delegate authorization to constituency organizations, retiree organizations and young worker organizations; adding stronger language around technology, democracy and truth; and more.
Finally, SMART participated in the exchange of knowledge and strategy at the AFL-CIO innovation hall. Instructors from the International Training Institute demonstrated groundbreaking technology, including a Trimble attached to a robotic dog and a virtual lift. With the demonstration of such technology and the dedication to ensuring tech advancements are union-directed, unions like SMART can work to bring our craft into the future and constantly establish our workforce as the highest standard of skill.
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