Michael Bonfigli/Special to the Christian Science Monitor
Liz Shuler, AFL-CIO president, speaks at the St. Regis Hotel on Aug. 31, 2021, in Washington. She says Washington has “the most pro-worker administration in history” under President Joe Biden.

A new day for Big Labor and the Monitor Breakfast

Liz Shuler, the new president of the AFL-CIO – and its first female leader – appeared at the first in-person Monitor Breakfast in almost two years.

Dear Reader,

So much has happened since our last in-person Monitor Breakfast – Nov. 21, 2019, with Ronna McDaniel, chair of the Republican National Committee. The pandemic sent us into lockdown. The street in front of Washington’s St. Regis Hotel, where we hold our breakfasts, erupted in violence following the murder of George Floyd. Joe Biden was elected president.

Down the street from the St. Regis, AFL-CIO headquarters had suffered damage during the riots of 2020. Now, employees at the nation’s biggest labor federation are back at the office. And they have a new leader, Liz Shuler, after the passing last month of their longtime president, Richard Trumka.

President Shuler picked right up where President Trumka had left off, appearing at our breakfast Tuesday in what has become an annual pre-Labor Day tradition. Ms. Shuler spoke of legislative efforts to help workers unionize, the role of unions as a source of “trusted information” during the pandemic, and her own pride at becoming the first female president of the AFL-CIO.

“Women are half the workforce,” said Ms. Shuler, who became a union organizer at age 23 and hasn’t looked back. “It’s incredibly important to signal that the labor movement is a movement for women.”

My Q&A from the breakfast is here. The C-SPAN video can be viewed here. Monitor reporter Story Hinckley wrote a follow-up article Thursday on the changing job market.

For more on Ms. Shuler, here’s my interview with her back in 2016, when she was the AFL-CIO’s secretary-treasurer. She spoke about sexual harassment, mentors, and why women are often more solution-oriented than men.

At our Tuesday breakfast, there were also memories of Mr. Trumka, a bear of a man who didn’t shy from a fight. Here’s my remembrance of him.

But maybe just as important as the content of the breakfast discussion was the fact that we gathered at all. Reporters and guests alike marveled at how special it was just to mingle – in person. Turns out everybody’s pretty Zoomed out. 

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Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

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