Speech | Better Pay and Benefits

Trumka to Arizona AFL-CIO Labor Day Breakfast: Vote Union

Phoenix, Arizona

Thank you, Brother Jim (McLaughlin) for that introduction and for your leadership. UFCW Local 99 is an absolute powerhouse in this state and you, Dean (Wine), Bob (Bean) and Fred (Yamashita) are doing an incredible job leading the Arizona labor movement forward.

I want to start this morning by remembering Arizona’s senior senator, John McCain. McCain served our nation with honor, enduring great suffering in the process. As a labor movement, we often disagreed with McCain on policy, but no one can question his devotion to our country. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and the people of Arizona during this difficult time. Thank you.

Happy Labor Day, brothers and sisters! I’ll be honest...I didn’t come to Phoenix on the last day of August for the weather. I’m here for the activism. I’m here because we have a chance to change the direction of Arizona and our entire nation.

Working people are on the rise, brothers and sisters. And if you want proof of our momentum, look at what happened in Missouri. Earlier this month, voters there went to the polls to decide the future of right to work. And with more than 67 percent of the vote, the Show Me State sent that horrible law into the ash heap of history.

We knocked more than 800,000 doors. We made more than 1 million phone calls. We spoke to members at over 1,000 different worksites...talking about good union jobs and the power of collective action.

Democrats voted no. Half of Republicans voted no. Two out of every three Missourians who cast a ballot voted no. The Chamber of Commerce said that, for every punch they threw, working people threw ten more. Even the Wall Street Journal editorial board is now warning CEOs that unions are on the attack.

262,000 new members joined unions in 2017...and here’s the best part...three quarters of them were under the age of 35. We’re rallying the next generation to our cause, and our popularity is reaching new heights across the country. New research from MIT shows half of non-union workers would vote for a union today if given the chance. They want to join us. They want a voice on the job.

Is it any wonder why? We transform lives, brothers and sisters! Economists at Princeton just confirmed what we’ve known all along...unions raise wages up to 20 percent...decade after decade. And that’s not all. We negotiate top-notch benefits. We make work safe, retirement secure and build the economic future that our kids and grandkids deserve! Unions have always been at the core of this country’s fundamental promise, and I’ll be damned if we’re going to stop now!

Brothers and sisters, 2018 is the year of the worker. We are rising together as one to build a nation that honors our labor. We will not accept an economy that only works for a handful of elites. We will not back down or settle for less.

Immigrant workers are putting aspiration above fear. Black lives matter. #MeToo. Young people are demanding safe schools. The fight for LGBTQ equality...you just hosted the Pride at Work convention here last week.

Each of these movements is a powerful rallying cry for change, driven by collective action. And as a labor movement, it is our job to ignite the flames of justice, not contain them.

You know a thing or two about that here in Arizona. Teachers in this state did something remarkable.

They didn't just seize the country's attention. They captured our imagination. In every corner of America, working people watched on TV and saw a sea of red marching through the streets of Phoenix...70,000 of our brothers and sisters demanding better than the crumbs that fall off the end of the table. And the AFL-CIO was right by their side...as affiliate unions set up a solidarity row to hand out water, distribute swag and provide support.

When working people saw those teachers march...unafraid...they thought...I deserve better too. I need to speak out! I need to organize! Arizona teachers helped inspire a wave of collective action that is sweeping this country.

Working people from coast to coast are recognizing that the best way to achieve our dreams is by standing with the person next to us...finding strength in each other...fighting together.

After the Supreme Court ruled against us in Janus, many pundits wondered if it would be the death of the labor movement. Well, brothers and sisters, they got their answer!

Our enemies want a fight? I say, bring it on! We’re the true American patriots. We’re fearless. We’re strong. We’re powerful. We’re united. We’re rising in solidarity…real solidarity…where your picket line is my picket line, and my picket line is your picket line.

This is our country...and it’s time...high time...we took it back!

Make no mistake, we have a tremendous opportunity in front of us here in Arizona. I know you just had your primary. 2018 is a make or break election. Kyrsten (Pronounced Ker-sten) Sinema is a friend and ally. When former Governor Jan Brewer introduced legislation to make collective bargaining illegal for government workers, teachers, police and firefighters, Sinema led the fight to stop it. As a Congresswoman, she has been a champion for higher wages, better health care and safer workplaces. Brothers and sisters, let’s send Kyrsten Sinema to the Senate...and Mitch McConnell into the minority.

But, the labor movement’s fight isn’t just about the halls of Congress. We’re pushing just as hard at the state and local level. We said no to “show me your papers” and a license to discriminate. We rallied together to defeat Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Sheriff Joe should be in prison, not public office.

Brothers and sisters, the wind is at our backs. We can win the three seats we need to put the State Senate back in labor-friendly hands. And we can end the era of corruption, division and corporate greed in Phoenix by firing a CEO and electing a teacher. Brothers and sisters, let’s make David Garcia the next governor of Arizona.

This is our time. We are mobilizing the biggest member-to-member political program in our history. We’re tearing down a system that listens to the whispers of CEOs and ignores the voices of working people. We’re filling the halls of power with union members and our allies.

We can reclaim our country...from our city halls and our state houses to the U.S. House and Senate. We can do it because each of you are ready to stake a claim in building a better future.

Each of you in this room—you are our greatest weapon. We need your passion. When you talk to your coworkers...when you talk to your friends and family...when you make the decision to fully participate in your union...that’s how progress is won!

The march to Election Day starts now. And my message is simple: vote union.

For higher wages and quality, affordable health care...vote union!

To protect Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security...vote union!

For the freedom to organize and bargain collectively...vote union!

For trade that actually lifts workers up...vote union!

For better roads, better schools and better jobs....vote union!

For an immigration system that respects our border agents, keeps families together and welcomes those seeking a better life...vote union!

For Arizona...for America...for each other.


Brothers and sisters, when I think about the attacks against us...from corporations...from the Supreme Court...from right-wing legislators...I get angry. And sometimes, I even get discouraged.

But on the darkest of days, I remember something my grandmother used to tell me. Stana tupe benne. In Italian, it means: from everything comes some good.

Now you might be wondering….what good can come from right to work and Janus and the proposals to gut our financial, health care and retirement security? What good can come from a Supreme Court that rules with corporations 90 percent of the time and a nominee in Brett Kavanaugh who would push that number even higher?

What good can come from a president who has used his office to actively hurt working people... appointing the deciding vote in Janus and cheering that awful decision on Twitter?

The answer is this. The vicious attacks on our unions have brought us closer together.

Our bond is stronger. Our memory is longer.

And that unity paid off last week when a federal judge struck down President Trump’s union-busting executive orders attacking our federal employees. AFGE sent the entire country a message: working people will not be pushed around.

Remember, throughout the entire history of our movement, we’ve never had anything handed to us.

Frederick Douglass once said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

That’s the story of our movement.

Brothers and sisters, we have fought for every victory. We bled to secure our right to stand together and bargain collectively. We marched and sacrificed to end child labor. We faced down the powers of Washington and Wall Street to win a minimum wage.

Every speck of progress was clawed from the hands of those who said we were asking too much...who tried to destroy us with one hand and dismissed us as radicals with the other. They considered us a conspiracy in restraint of trade. They said dignity...fairness...a safe job...were too much to ask.

In the face of seemingly insurmountable opposition, we steadily built a fairer economy and a more just society...because we had one advantage on our side: Solidarity.

American greatness...American decency...the American Dream itself was built through solidarity...as workers joined arms and marched forward as one in common cause.

Each time they fired us...or shot at us...or told us sit down and shut up...we grew stronger.

Bonded by a common struggle, working people kept fighting and discovered a fundamental truth that carries us to this day: You can’t stop ALL of us.

We are an unassailable force when—and only when—we stand together.

I remember back when my son Richard was young—maybe three or four years old. He and his buddy Chad were driving around in the backyard in one of those battery operated jeeps.

He must have heard me talking on the phone, because he drove up and asked: “Dad, what’s a union?”

So I told him to get out of the jeep and try to push it up the hill in our backyard. He strained and struggled, but he couldn’t get it up the hill. Then I told his friend Chad to give him a hand. Working together, they got the job done. I looked right at my son and said: “That’s a union...people doing things together that they can’t do alone.”

Brothers and sisters, working people are climbing that hill. Every day. Against all odds.

And we’re not going to stop until we reach the promised land.

Because we’re the ones who wake our nation up every single morning. We tuck her into bed at night. We build the ships and mine the coal. We lift the loads. We pour the molds. We connect our cities and the world. We teach, heal and make. We package, print and bake. We make this country strong.

We don’t duck and run. We don’t run and hide. We’re the American labor movement, and we will not...we will not...be denied!

Thank you! God bless you! Happy Labor Day!

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