Speech

Richard L. Trumka Acceptance Speech at the AFL-CIO 2017 Convention

St. Louis, Missouri

Thank you.

I’m humbled and honored.

First, I want to thank Lee Saunders of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees for nominating me, and Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, and my own president and brother from the coalfields, Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America, for seconding my nomination.

I want to thank the delegates. It’s an honor for each of us to serve our labor movement. I want to thank my family. Please stand up. My wife Barb. My son Richard, his wife Jessica and my grandson Trey. Christie, Kyle and Ki. My sister and brother in law Fran and Alex. My godson Sean. And his kids Ally, Mackenzie and Madison.

I also want to thank a number of people who aren’t here, but on whose shoulders I stand and in whose steps I have followed.

My father was a lifelong coal miner who knew the value of solidarity. He’s gone from this world, but he’s with me every day. Thank you, dad, and God bless you, and my mother, too. I followed my father into the mines and into unionism, but from my mother I got my passion and fighting spirit.

My family is my foundation, but my union gave me purpose, and a path. Jock Yablonski led the movement called Miners for Democracy back in the 1960s when I was coming into unionism. Jock gave his life to turn the UMWA in a democratic and worker-led union. Without him I wouldn't be standing here today. 

There was George Holupka, my mentor who took me under his wing. There was Phil Ferutti, who was killed standing next to me when a trip of coal cars slid backwards down the tracks. After he was crushed, I gave him CPR until the doctor declared him dead.

People like Cecil Roberts, John Banovic, Jerry Jones, Carlo Turley, Paul Lemmon, Rich Barchesi 
and Bob Long. 

These were the people who raised me, who inspire me, and who taught me about unionism, and about life.

The sense of solidarity and community went through everything. It was like that throughout my hometown, Nemacolin. If I’ve got a pension, I’d be thinking how can I get you a pension, too. And you. And you. And everybody. My high school teacher taught me to write sonnets and see beauty in a tough world. In fact, that wonderful woman said she saw in me a diamond in the rough. She did more than teach. She inspired.

That’s a way of looking at the world that’s getting attention across America right now. It’s a kind of unionism and responsibility and solidarity that has been hard to find in America for a long, long time. It’s the idea that together we can build a ladder to a better life, and climb it.

For too long, too many CEOs, special interests and extremists have kept us fighting over the bottom rungs of the ladder. All the while, they’ve been climbing higher and higher, and when they get to or near the top rung, they burn the whole thing down!

Well, guess what? They’re not the real power in America. Workers are. WE ARE!

And let’s not kid ourselves: things have gotten very tough in America for too many working people. Sinister forces have banded together with their political influence and their money to try to weaken the beating heart of a strong, independent labor movement and a thriving middle class that rises together.

But the punches they’ve thrown at us haven’t deterred us—NO, they’ve inspired us to come together, to renew our bond and to have an honest conversation about how we strengthen the AFL-CIO and our unions.  We are ready for this fight—it may feel different and on some days more daunting—but my sisters and brothers, we will leave St. Louis on the  right track and ready for what comes next.

Over the past eight years, we have strengthened our unions so we can build new ladders up to the middle class. That’s what our movement has always been about—we’re in this movement for workers and our families. That’s why I fought for a better and more secure life for coal miners and why I ran for office. It is what drives me today.  Our labor movement is more unified, more focused, more fiscally sound… because of the work we’ve done together. Now we’re ready to write the next chapter. Because no matter what we hear from the naysayers, we  ain’t done yet.

Great working men and women, and tough union leaders and activists gave us what we have, and we’ll leave it all to the generations to come.

We’ll come together. We’ll stand together. We’ll fight together.

For good jobs.

For expanded in bargaining power.

For fairness and justice for everyone.

For an economy and a political system no longer rigged against us.

And for a fiercely independent movement that is ready to give voice to all working people.

Our union gives us strength. I’m not talking about the institutions. I’m talking about the unseen connection between you and me, between all of us and our members—between the factory worker, bus driver, teacher and nurse. It can’t be measured. It can’t be touched. But I can feel it. It’s like love. When it’s gone, nothing hurts worse, and when it’s there, everything is possible.

Sisters and brothers, thank you for putting your trust in me once again. I am proud to stand before you and tell you we’re going to go forward toward a better day for all working people.

Our opponents are tough. They’re well-heeled and ruthless. But their deep pockets can’t overcome our deep passion for a fairer and more just nation. I say, bring it on!

America is hungry for change. Change doesn’t just happen—we will make it happen the same way our predecessors stared down the barrel of a harsh economic and political reality—and even guns—to form the labor movement.

A new day. A better day. For you, and me. Our children and grandchildren.

We’ll join together. We’ll fight together. We’ll win together, brothers and sisters, because we do the work. This is our country, and it’s high time that we took it back!

Thank you! Thank you for the honor to serve another term as president of the AFL-CIO.

Thank you. God bless you, God bless your families and members and all the work you do!