The AFL-CIO’s executive council voted Friday as expected to appoint Liz Shuler as the federation’s president following the unexpected death of Richard Trumka.
Shuler is the organization’s first female president, a historic moment for organized labor in the U.S. She will serve as the nation’s top union official until summer 2022, when the AFL-CIO’s 50-plus affiliates can gather for their annual convention to vote on a permanent successor.
“I am humbled, honored and ready to guide this federation forward,” Shuler said after her election. “I believe in my bones the labor movement is the single greatest organized force for progress. This is a moment for us to lead societal transformations, to leverage our power to bring women and people of color from the margins to the center — at work, in our unions and in our economy — and to be the center of gravity for incubating new ideas that will unleash unprecedented union growth.”
Executive council members also elected United Steelworkers International Vice President Fred Redmond to succeed Shuler as secretary-treasurer. Redmond is the first Black American to hold the office.
Shuler’s confirmation comes at a crucial time for the federation and its 12 million members. With the union membership rate about half what it was in the 1980s, the organization is at a crossroads: Leadership must decide whether to maintain Trumka’s near-laser focus on passing the pro-union Protecting the Right to Organize Act, a path Shuler is sure to follow, or to step into a broader role in support of the labor movement by pouring resources into building membership.
“Shuler has never stopped fighting for the working class of this country and the equality of all working people,” Rep. Andy Levin (D-Mich.) said. “I wish her well as we fight to push the Senate to join the House and pass the PRO Act and help the millions of workers who are showing a renewed interest in organizing a union.”
Shuler, who was unopposed, had the formal backing of AFT, AFSCME and IAM, some of the federation’s largest affiliates. All highlighted her ability to build consensus and to continue the status quo.
“Shuler offers both strength and stability to our movement,” AFT President Randi Weingarten, who seconded Shuler’s nomination, said in a statement this week. “She thinks big but never misses a detail, she builds consensus, and she leads with great kindness and humility.”
Weingarten, who was on Zoom for the vote, said in a text the mood in the room was “happy and inspired” following Shuler’s election.
Shuler’s first job in labor was as an organizer for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in 1993. She eventually worked her way up to become a lobbyist for IBEW and, later, executive assistant to its president, before Trumka named her his running mate in 2009.
The Guardian reported in 2019 that Trumka and Shuler were asking union presidents if they would support her as the federation’s next president. Trumka, officials said, would step down — but only if Shuler had enthusiastic enough backing to take over.
“They were a great team,” AFL-CIO spokesperson Tim Schlittner said in an interview earlier this month. “It’s been more than a decade of just a close partnership; they’ve been in lockstep for all these years.”
The two “really were tight,” Schlittner added. “Not just as friends and partners, but as far as their vision for the labor movement.”