AFL-CIO ST Liz Shuler discusses her rise through organized labor

In recent years, women have made massive strides in the labor movement and in the building trades specifically.

AFL-CIO Secretary Treasurer Liz Shuler joined America’s Work Force Union Podcast to share her history in organized labor, rising to her current position and to preview the North America’s Building Trades Unions Tradeswomen Build Nations Conference.

Rising to the AFL-CIO

Shuler has seen the effects of organized labor at work. When her father returned from Vietnam he worked for a local utility company as a hole digger. After finally being accepted into an IBEW apprenticeship program, Shuler said life had changed greatly for her and her family with all of the union benefits.

She said she worked at the same local utility company in Portland before they were purchased by Enron. She then joined the organizing fight while working with the clerical workers at the company who did not enjoy the same representation as the line workers, catching the eye of the Portland IBEW Local.

Eventually, the IBEW International offices got in touch with her about taking a job as a political legislative operative with the union.

After helping to defeat electricity deregulation legislation on the federal level, Shuler was promoted to Chief of Staff at the IBEW. This is when she met AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka who ultimately selected her as his running mate.

Tradeswomen Build Nations

As the highest ranking woman in labor federation history, Shuler has a vested interest in securing a place for women in the building trades.

Although she was let down that the conference will have to take place virtually this year, Shuler said it is just another example of women overcoming adversity to make things happen.

Since its inception, the conference has seen a growing number of women in attendance. She said it is the greatest place for tradeswomen to come together to discuss shared experiences and discuss strategies for success.

Shuler explained that the theme of the virtual conference is “leaning in.” The theme was developed as another way of creating more equal workplaces and ultimately a more equal world.

Finally, Shuler said there is still an abundance of opportunity for growth in the trades for women and that the building trades are a great place for women to find opportunity, equal pay and great benefits.


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