If not us, who? If not now, when? That’s the Theme we chose for this, our gathering here tonight… It comes out of a conversation I was having with none other than AFL-CIO President, Liz Shuler. I posed it to her in a conversation we had this past summer, then she used it again in her comments that very day…
If not us, who? If not now, when? So, what do we mean by that? What are we asking?
We are purposefully gathered here this evening … aware of the cross winds that we all navigate currently. It’s been over two years since we were last able to gather like this, break bread, and celebrate. During that time, much has happened… And that may just be the understatement of the night…
2020 was a tumultuous year that saw the onset of a deadly global pandemic… a deeply contentious election… bitter political divisions… and racial unrest explode into violence.
By Crowds of protesters took to the streets in a widespread outcry over systemic racism and injustice, and tens of millions of Americans cast their votes in a hotly contested presidential election, mailing in ballots or heading to the polls in larger numbers than ever before in our nation’s history.
It was a year where The Senate acquitted a President of impeachment charges, The United States began the protracted process of leaving Afghanistan, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed, and Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won a historic election.
Americans reckoned with the nation’s racist history as Women’s Track and Field athlete Sheree Barbour joined others in protesting the grand jury decision in the Breonna Taylor case, George Floyd’s death sparked global protests, and Civil rights icon John Lewis left us in July.
Harvey Weinstein was convicted marking the end of a decades’-long tide of allegations of sexual misconduct against him by dozens of women, sparking the “Me Too” movement that has transformed our views on sexual harassment in the workplace.
Wildfires burned more than 8.2 million acres in the American West, Brushfires devastated Australia, Antarctica saw its highest temperature on record, and The United States officially left the Paris Climate Agreement…Go figure.
In January of 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that a cluster of mysterious pneumonia-like cases in Wuhan, China, in late 2019 might have been caused by a previously unidentified coronavirus.
By the end of that month, cases of this new virus were confirmed in Thailand, Japan and the United States, among other countries, totaling 9,800 cases and more than 200 deaths. By year’s end we would reach more than 300,000 lost souls. Worldwide, more than 1.6 million people died from COVID-19 in 2020, with total confirmed cases topping 70 million.
In 2021, the United States—and the world—continued to confront the consequences of 2020, particularly the COVID-19 pandemic.
In what became a record for the fastest vaccine development in history, by year’s end, more than 200 million Americans would be fully vaccinated. However, vaccine hesitancy was a factor in the steady growth of the COVID-19 death toll with over 800,000 by mid-December, and global deaths topping 5 million.
On January 6, a mob of pro-Trump demonstrators stormed the U.S. Capitol in an effort to stop lawmakers from certifying the results of the 2020 presidential election.
Five people died in the chaos either shortly before, during or following the event, including a Capitol police officer. Accused of inciting his supporters to riot, Trump became the first president to be impeached (and acquitted) a second time.
Joe Biden was inaugurated as the 46th president of the United States on January 20. Kamala Harris became the nation’s first female, Black and South Asian vice president.
In their first hours in office, Biden signed a letter returning the United States to the Paris accord, which we had officially withdrawn from in late 2020.
Then, in April, President Biden announced the full withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan by September 11, the 20th anniversary of 9/11.
Amid the false claims of voter fraud in the 2020 election, numerous states passed laws in 2021 that introduced new limits on voting unfairly targeting people of color, and Democrats in Congress fought for passage of a comprehensive voting rights legislation named after the late Georgia congressman John Lewis.
In February, winter storms bringing snow, sleet and freezing rain combined with frigid temperatures wreaked havoc in Texas, causing road closures, widespread power outages and loss of heat, electricity and water for millions of people. The death toll from the winter storms exceeded 200 people.
In March, two mass shootings within a week of each other proved a devastating reminder of the ongoing scourge of gun violence in the United States. Of the eight people killed in Atlanta, six were Asian women, fueling outrage and fear over the increase in anti-Asian violence during the pandemic.
The summer of 2021 brought us an historic Heatwave in the West, with temperatures reaching 116 degrees in Portland, Oregon and 108 in Seattle, Washington.
On August 29, making landfall as a Category 4 hurricane with 150 mph winds, Hurricane Ida claimed the lives of more than 30 people in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi.
After weakening, Ida continued to wreak havoc in the Northeast, killing at least 60 people in six states, and causing widespread flooding of streets, neighborhoods, houses and even the New York City subway.
Police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty in the death of George Floyd, and a jury in Georgia convicted three defendants of murdering Ahmaud Arbery, a young Black man they confronted while he was simply jogging through their neighborhood…
Folks, its been a tough-ass couple years.
So now, here in the fourth quarter of 2022, what do you know…After everything I just told you, and all that happened since the last time we sat and broke bread, the trauma and turmoil of these past two years has altered the balance of power between employers and employees. Amid a burst of 2022 union victories across the country, with successes at major American corporations such as Amazon and Starbucks, 71% percent of Americans look favorably on labor unions — the highest point in over 60 years.
Not in any of our lifetimes has there been a political and social environment this favorable to working people! And more importantly, the face of Labor is changing across the nation. This past June, at the AFL-CIO Convention, I raised my hand proudly voting to elect Liz Shuler as the first ever female President of the AFL-CIO along with the most diverse leadership team in AFL-CIO history.
Now is the time – Now is our time. It is time to embrace the changing nature of the workplace, and fight the fight for what is rightfully ours… rights such as
- protections for collective bargaining agreements
- the right to health and safety protections
- the right to a livable wage
- universal paid sick leave and family and medical leave
- protections for whistleblowers
- an end to worker misclassification
- health care security
- support for childcare
- and the ability to hold corporations accountable for meeting their responsibilities.
And in this time when we find our nation tossed about and torn by all these competing head winds, three out of four Americans see Unions as the greatest hope for the collective good. We are the river that raises all boats!
So, Sisters and Brothers… Let me ask you again… If not us, who… And if not now, when?
We must strike while the fire is hot.
Wow, it worked! And a big shout out and thank you to Sisters and Brothers that made it happen: Paul Frankenfeld (AFM Local 1), Carl Vineyard (USW Local 14734), Paige Stephens (UFCW Local 75), Ted Thompson (NALC Branch 43), and Jeremy Tyler (Workers United Local 12). Thank you for being the very finest version of us – the best that we can be! To you five, thank you!
Frankly, I wasn’t sure it would work, and I’m sure it will likely still have fits and starts, but the Delegate Meeting Wednesday evening was about, by, and for Delegates. Instead of a valiant effort by the Executive Secretary-Treasurer alone to make the meeting worthwhile, over half of Wednesday’s meeting was dedicated to voices of Sisters and Brothers in the struggle, sharing their view of that struggle with one another. We heard about victories, we heard of losses, and we heard stories of battles yet undecided. We heard about The Labor Movement we all love and share, and it was, by my estimation, the most informative and uplifting delegate meeting I’ve attended in my near-five years with the CLC.
It has long been my vision that we would be better…we would be stronger…we would be in greater solidarity if we were more connected. We all live busy lives, and we are all stretched to our maximum putting it all in and on the line for the Labor movement each and every day. It’s an indisputable fact! Having said that, it can be a difficult, frustrating, and often lonely slog, fighting the good fight every minute of every day… and when you lay your head down at night, sometimes you aren’t entirely sure if it was a good day or not…if you made headway or not…if you won more than you lost. I know… The work is hard and often the love for the movement can seem unrequited.
However, fear not! Wednesday evening, we got a glimpse into the movement all around us. Those good and noble persons named above stepped out and stepped up to share some moments with us from their corner of the movement. Bits and pieces of the battles they have lost, and won, and are yet to be determined… They, for those few moments, were speaking not just with all of us, but for all of us. And I could not have been prouder of them, and you, and the movement.
We speak often of Unity and Solidarity – and we should! We easily toss it about and place it in our closing on the written page – all good. But we must be more intentional…more purposeful in living it. And where better to make that happen than during the one time each month when we come together as Sisters and Brothers, joined in common cause, to tell the stories of our struggles, victories, hopes, dreams, disappointments and more?
“After all, it’s called a “Delegate” meeting, not an “Executive Secretary-Treasurer” Meeting!” So, it is my intention to do my work and dedicate myself 110% to the stewardship and advancement of the Cincinnati AFL-CIO Labor Council, and to each of you… but going forward, this is about you — not me. The stage is set. I am asking you to take it. So, until next month, I will see out there!
In unity and Solidarity Forever!
(Brian Griffin, Executive Secretary-Treasure, Cincinnati AFL-CIO Labor Council)
“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” These words have long been associated with the American Postal Worker. Though not an official creed or motto of the United States Postal Service, the Postal Service acknowledges it as an informal motto.
In the very earliest of day, before the United States was its own nation, long before the internet or telephones and multitudes of methods for instantaneous communication over vast distances, the connective of the American colonies was the mail which was transported by horseback riders on the rough-hewn roads between cities and towns. The safe, efficient delivery of the mail was critical to the colonies’ survival, which is why three months after the battles of Lexington and Concord, the Continental Congress turned to Benjamin Franklin to establish a national post service as the first Postmaster General.
The postal service was a mess when Philadelphia’s 47-year-old Benjamin Franklin took the helm. At that time, it was run under the crown as a moneymaking venture for Britain. For years, it ran a deficit, and Franklin realized the best way to turn a profit was to improve services instead of gutting them. Ironic isn’t it that the future Founding Father — a statesman, scientist, and shrewd businessman — believed in efficiency and innovation. Historians by and large believe he would have been alarmed at the more recent attempts to slash operations of one of the nation’s founding institutions.
So, let’s fast forward to January 18 this year, when a federal crisis-response service launched and anyone with a fixed address in the United States or its territories could go to CovidTests.gov and order four tests sent for free to their home. The initiative may have come weeks too late to help contain the omicron surge, but at last, free rapid testing by mail is finally available in the U.S.
As it turns out, that inviting website is really just a splash page for the United States Postal Service (USPS), one of our nation’s first public institutions, founded for the sake of public good, and yet, in recent times, one that has been systematically dismantled. And now, in the third year of this pandemic, the Covid-19 response is being foisted upon critical public institutions that have been underfunded or tampered with for decades.
It’s counterintuitive that some of our most essential institutions that might have remained stable during a crisis have been stripped to where they can barely function, and yet still leaned on as if whole and robust. Even before the prior administration admittedly was starving the agency to make it harder to vote by mail, USPS has been besieged by challenges. To no small extent, the problem is that the office is made to operate differently from any other public institutions.
Trying to provide world-class service like the USPS by making its money off the sale of postage and services instead of relying on taxpayer funds, as do all other public services we enjoy, is insane.
One can point to 2006, when Congress passed a law requiring the post office to prefund health care benefits for retiring employees, as that moment, and the financial burden that created, for the financial situation the USPS is in now.
With the advent of a new administration in 2021, attention on the USPS crisis slowed, but the office continues to struggle under the strain of the remnants of so many destructive policies, compounded by this pandemic. Just a few months ago, the postal service announced it was slowing down its mail delivery for some letters and packages; staffing shortages that have roiled other industries have overburdened postal employees, who work as many as 80 hours a week, have caused additional delays.
It might be less frustrating if it weren’t all so predictable. Rural Americans have reported delays and losses, significantly impacting their livelihoods. Essential government communications such as stimulus checks and advanced child tax credits, delayed and lost, and all because an essential public utility all of us and the government rely on to fulfill basic functions has been willfully neglected.
Let me conclude by asking this: If I had a letter, and I gave it to you, then demanded that you take it to the most remote corner of the planet, find a specific location, no matter how difficult the terrain, or harsh the weather, and safely deliver that letter to a specific individual, all for $.58, would you be able to do it? Yet that is what we ask the USPS to do millions of time each and every day.
So, as we all sit in our nice warm homes on this brutally cold winter morning, let’s remember the Sisters and Brothers who are out there now…doing it…getting it done…even while their good work is kneecapped and handcuffed. The USPS is a mission-critical system, a necessary government service, and the good, noble, dedicated women and men who carry out that service each and every day, are doing their level best, under willfully burdensome and unnecessarily onerous circumstances. Remember that if your package is a little late, or your mail doesn’t arrive as you wish. It isn’t becasue of the hard-working women and men of the USPS. Stand strong with our Sisters and Brothers and support the USPS!