Shuler: Biden’s Build Back Better agenda puts working women at center of U.S. recovery
Liz Shuler, president of the AFL-CIO and Elise Bryant, president of CLUW | CLUW/Twitter

WASHINGTON (PAI)—Democratic President Joe Biden’s sweeping Build Back Better agenda, now hung up on Capitol Hill, “will put working women at the center of” the U.S.’s economic recovery from the ravages of the coronavirus pandemic.

So says organized labor’s top-ranked working woman: AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler.

Shuler, an Electrical Worker (IBEW) member, became the labor federation’s first-ever top female leader when its executive council elevated her from the #2 job, Secretary-Treasurer, after the untimely death of incumbent Richard Trumka.

But in her keynote address to October’s virtual zoomed convention of the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW), Shuler didn’t mention that.

Instead, she focused on the vital role working women played in replacing racist, misogynistic GOP Oval Office resident Donald Trump with the Democratic nominees: Biden and the “first woman vice president,” Kamala Harris.

“’First woman’ has a nice ring, doesn’t it?” Shuler said.

Women, and particularly the AFL-CIO’s 6.5 million female members “worked overtime to deliver a pro-worker majority in the Senate, and voted in a pro-worker majority in the House—which includes a record number of women: 25% of all lawmakers and 40% of Democrats.”

“When women run for office and win, when union women run for office and win, when our voices are in the halls of power, we create the change we need. And we have a generational opportunity right now to do exactly that,” by pushing the 10-year Build Back Better plan through Congress, Shuler said. “We’re going to show up, stand up and claim our power.”

That measure, she explained, would help not just working women who returned to their jobs as pandemic-caused restrictions eased, or those who have found better jobs since they came off the jobless rolls, but also those still unemployed as the disease forced their employers to lay them off, close, or both.

Some 1.8 million of those working women can’t come back because child care is unavailable, too expensive to pay for if they’re going to work, or pays too little if they work at it, Shuler said. Unsaid: Overhead and bosses’ pay take up child care firms’ cash, in those cases.

Shuler pointed out the BBB legislation, officially the 10-year $350 billion yearly “reconciliation bill,” would ease that pain by pumping billions of dollars into better child care, including raising the child and home care workers’ pay to a minimum of $15 an hour and providing money to improve and upgrade child care centers.

The median hourly wage for those workers now is $11-$12, meaning half make more and half make less. “For far too long, women have been underpaid, undervalued, and expected to take on most of the unpaid work at home,” Shuler said.

“But this isn’t just a women’s issue. It’s a fundamental economic issue impacting all working people. Building Back Better will put gender equity where it belongs: At the center of our economic recovery. Because a strong care infrastructure makes other jobs possible.

“And women who do the work in the care economy, overwhelmingly women of color, have long been overlooked and underpaid. Care jobs should be good jobs with livable wages and benefits. And we know the best way to raise wages, close wage gaps, and fight discrimination on the job is with a union card.

“It’s still true. A woman’s place is in her union. And in her union’s leadership. And in elected office. At all tables of power—everywhere decisions are made.”

What Shuler didn’t say is that, ironically, a working senatorial woman, Arizonan Krysten Sinema, is one of the two key blockaders of the BBB agenda in the evenly split Senate.

With all 50 Republicans ordered to vote “no” by their dictator, leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., BBB needs all 48 Democrats and both independents to vote for it before Harris can break the tie and pass it.

Sinema and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., are the holdouts. She refuses to outline her terms, except for opposing BBB’s repeal of the Trump-GOP tax cuts for corporations and the 1%. So Shuler urged CLUW delegates to lobby and lean on the two, and the convention agreed, in one of a dozen resolutions delegates passed later.

“We’re mobilizing to pass the full Build Back Better agenda—infrastructure AND reconciliation—which together represent one of the greatest investments in working people AND working women in American history,” Shuler said.

“So we can rebuild our roads and bridges. Make the investments we need in public transportation and clean energy and job training. And access to good, union jobs and middle-class opportunities. And that includes paid family and medical leave, child care investments, and universal Pre-K. Because just like roads and bridges, child care and elder care are critical infrastructure.”

Besides the pro-BBB, pro-reconciliation resolution, CLUW’s 12 resolutions included:

  • Campaigning to pass the Protect The Right To Organize (PRO) Act. Key sections of the measure, labor’s #1 legislative priority, are in the reconciliation bill: Higher fines for labor law-breaking, expanding offenses subject to the fines, and holding corporate honchos, boards, and CEOs responsible for labor law-breaking, through those penalties.

“When women workers can organize, they make on average 23% more than non-unionized women workers, they are far more likely to have access to paid sick days and family and medical leave, and have access to an objective process in which workplace problems are resolved,” CLUW’s resolution says.

“The PRO Act will help make America’s economy work for working people, and help raise stagnant wages that increased a mere 9% from 1973 to 2013, while productivity increased 74% over that same time. President Biden has publicly called on Congress to pass the PRO Act so he can sign the bill into law.”

  • Final passage and inclusion of the Equal Rights Amendment in the U.S. Constitution, and a resolution to push for statehood for Washington, D.C., which is majority-female.
  • Strong measures to combat climate change, with the condition that green jobs “must include strong labor standards to prevent outsourcing and ensure union jobs with family-supporting wages and good benefits–including healthcare, paid leave, pensions, prevailing wages, project labor agreements and establishment of card check neutrality agreements.” Biden strongly supports and advocates that goal.

But the shift to clean renewable energy must also include “fully funded disaster benefits” for a “fair and equitable transition” for other workers—principally in fossil-fuel industries—who will be left without jobs.

  • Endorsement of critical race theory. Though CLUW didn’t say so, white nationalists have transformed it into an issue of hate, especially in schools.

“Critical race theory is a body of legal scholarship and an academic movement of civil-rights scholars and activists that seek to critically examine U.S. laws as it intersects with issues of race and to challenge mainstream American liberal approaches to racial justice,” CLUW said. It’s “focused on the idea that racism is systemic rather than the isolated actions of individual people with prejudices.” (Their emphasis).

“CRT holds racial inequality is woven into the legal system and negatively affects people of color in the educational, medical, political, criminal justice, employment, housing, and countless other sectors of life.”

  • Stronger gun control. “CLUW will press to ban the manufacture and sale of assault weapons and other high-capacity firearms and equipment,” insist all buyers must pass criminal background checks and mental health screening and require standardized training in gun use, before purchase, delegates decided.
  • Denunciation of Trump-foisted Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s plan to severely cut mail services and lengthen delivery times—a plan that GOP big giver has already begun to implement. Since USPS needs to add to its revenues, CLUW said, delegates strongly support resuming postal banking, as Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind-Vt., proposes.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.