Off the Clock with the AFL-CIO’s Liz Shuler

Off the Clock

Welcome to a new blog feature where twice a month American Rights at Work spends some time off the clock with notable labor leaders, thinkers, and organizers.

First up is AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler, who shares how she joined the labor movement, why young workers should too, and how she likes to spend her time when she’s “off the clock”!

American Rights at Work:  How did you get involved in the labor movement?

Liz Shuler: My passion for politics and social justice collided! During college, I was a summer employee at a utility company that had a union for its employees who worked on the power lines, but not for its clerical workers. I saw that the union workers were respected and had a voice, and the clerical workers weren’t. When I graduated from the University of Oregon the job market was terrible, and I was working several part-time jobs to make ends meet. I knew what the labor movement stood for because my dad was an IBEW member, and I was active in political campaigns where the labor movement showed up in force during elections. I knocked on the IBEW local union business manager’s door to see if he would hire me, because it was the perfect marriage between my interest in politics and advocacy. The timing was perfect, because the local union had just launched an organizing drive to represent those clerical workers I had worked with in the past, and they needed a woman with that kind of background to help with the campaign. As they say, timing is everything.

ARAW: Who from labor history or history in general most inspires you?

LS: Mother Jones, for her tenacity and passionate advocacy in the area of child labor, and for her ability to mobilize people clear into her 90s! I also have a great admiration for Frances Perkins, who, as the first woman cabinet member, pushed for some of the most important labor laws in our history. She was a powerful advocate, but was not interested in the “fanfare” or getting credit for the monumental change she oversaw – just wanted to make a difference for workers. I am most inspired by the women I meet every day in the labor movement and beyond, who have tremendous courage to stand up for their rights, often under the most intimidating and stressful work environments.

ARAW: Why is it important for young people to get involved in the labor movement?

LS: Young people today are enduring the harshest of economic conditions, but refuse to allow the grim job market stifle their drive to make a difference. We need that energy, enthusiasm and leadership in our labor movement. We need to provide opportunities for young workers to shape the way unions will look in the future, and modernize how we operate so we change our ways of doing business along with the changing nature of the workforce. The AFL-CIO’s Next Up young worker outreach program has helped organize local young worker groups all across the country to provide a space their voices in our movement. We also established a national young worker advisory council to make sure our work is relevant and communicated in their language, and we are providing opportunities for leadership development and training to ensure we are cultivating the next generation of leaders in the labor movement

ARAW: What are you most excited about at the upcoming Next Up summit?

LS: The Next Up summit in Minneapolis this week will bring over 800 young union members, progressives and student activists together for education, training and activism around creating a just economy. I’m especially excited to broaden our alliances between young labor leaders and community, progressive and campus organizations – these are the partnerships that will be critically important as we face the next round of state legislative attacks on unions and the 2012 elections.

ARAW: From your own experience as a woman in leadership, what words of wisdom would you share with young women hoping to take on leadership roles?

LS: Have thick skin! Find allies – male or female – who share your values and commitment to moving the work forward. It’s important to find a trusted mentor that you can confide in, to share in your successes, failures and frustrations. Also, I never forget the golden rule – it is so simple, but so important. No matter what kind of opposition or challenge you may face, always treat people the way you would want to be treated (even if you feel like crushing someone who’s been particularly nasty to you!).

ARAW: What are you currently reading?

LS: Besides keeping up with the endless reading for my job (policy papers, legislative briefs, economic and political analyses, etc.), I try to have something for pleasure reading that helps me escape. I just finished Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay and look forward to finally finishing the Stieg Larsson trilogy next!

ARAW: What do you like to do ‘off the clock’?

LS: I love anything to do with design and creative outlets such as painting, mosaic tiling and decorative arts. I am currently working on multimedia piece for my office that combines wood, paint and creative use of union logos!

Thanks, Liz,  for taking time Off the Clock with us — and send us pictures of the union logo piece when you’re done! And please stay tuned for another Off the Clock in the coming weeks!

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, September 28th, 2011 at 11:05 am and is filed under Off the Clock. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

One Response to “Off the Clock with the AFL-CIO’s Liz Shuler”

  1. How do you do? siblings just loves your charming article thanx and pls continue it

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