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.