Trumka: Being Jersey Strong Means Being Union Strong

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka delivered the following remarks at the New Jersey State AFL-CIO COPE/Legislative Endorsement Conference:

Good morning. Brother Charlie Wowkanech, thank you for that kind introduction and for your leadership. And thank you to my sister Laurel Brennan for your incredible work.

It is an honor to join you for your 2021 Legislative and COPE Endorsement Conference.

And next time, mark my words: we are going back to Atlantic City!

Before I continue, I want to thank: Governor Phil Murphy; Senate President Steve Sweeney; General Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin; and all the elected officials joining working people today.  

Let me also acknowledge our brother and the individual the New Jersey State AFL-CIO is recognizing today: Amalgamated Transit Union International President John Costa. 

Brother John Costa does not need much of an introduction. We know him. He came up through ATU Local 819 in Newark. He is tough as nails at the negotiating table. And he has fought like hell for his members during this pandemic. 

Finally, I want to thank each of you. 

Every working person attending this conference is Jersey Strong!

You don’t need me to tell you that. You already know it. But let this proud Pennsylvanian indulge you this morning.

When I think of Jersey Strong, I think of the firefighters who rushed to the Twin Towers on 9/11 and who stayed at Ground Zero for weeks. Not because they had to be there, but because they felt a sense of duty to be there.

I think of the resilience of the building trades workers who rolled up their sleeves after Hurricane Sandy and rebuilt the Garden State.

This year, when I think of Jersey Strong, I think of the working people who held New Jersey together. 

The grocery store clerk stocking the shelves. The teacher adapting to remote teaching so our children could keep learning. The transit worker transporting fellow front-line workers to and from the job. 

I also think of the working people who were—or still are—out of work through no fault of their own.

And they were top of mind for this state federation, too. Under the leadership of Brother Charlie, the New Jersey State AFL-CIO launched Operation Feed Atlantic City.

The pandemic crushed A-C, but it could not stop working people from feeding our brothers and sisters and neighbors who struggled to put food on the table.

In the words of Bruce Springsteen, “We take care of our own!”

But brothers and sisters, we will also extend a hand to our friends in need.

That’s why, for over a year, you volunteered in the blistering heat and the bitter cold. The rain, sleet and snow did not scare you away.

When the cars lined up, you showed up! 

You handed out meals and showed the strength of solidarity! 

While the work continues, I understand the last food distribution is on Thursday. And I know, to date, over 40,000 meal kits and four million pounds of food have been distributed.

Brothers and sisters, think about that. You did more than put food on the table. You gave working families hope! And you are bringing Atlantic City back to life!

You see, labor doesn’t walk away. We stand strong. We fight.

And we deserve leaders who will stand beside and fight alongside us!

On Capitol Hill, the entire New Jersey congressional delegation voted for the PRO Act.

Both senators and all 12 representatives. 

12 Democrats and two Republicans. 

Being Jersey Strong means being union strong!

And the PRO Act is a generational opportunity to build back better with unions.

It’s time to finally level the playing field. Anyone who wants to carry a union card should be able to do so freely and fairly.

I believe it’s not a matter of if we pass the PRO Act, but a matter of when. 

And when we do, we’re going to have quite a party in New Jersey.

You know better than anyone that our power is not limited to one political party or level of government.

Four years ago, the New Jersey State AFL-CIO replaced one governor who closed bridges with a new governor who believes in building bridges. 

After two terms of Chris Christie talking a big game and pretending to be pro-worker, New Jersey elected Phil Murphy—a governor who is pro-worker.

Governor Murphy is the real deal. I know firsthand.

Last year, Governor Murphy asked me to serve on New Jersey’s Restart and Recovery Commission.

And I have to admit, I was a bit surprised.

Here was the lineup. 

A professor at Princeton and the president of Rutgers.

The CEO of a Fortune 100 and the founder of a startup.

A former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, a former chairman of the Federal Reserve chairman and a former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.

I noticed something pretty quickly: everyone else is from or has some connection to New Jersey. I’m from Nemacolin, Pennsylvania! My Penn State Nittany Lions have beaten the Rutgers Scarlet Knights football team in the last 14 consecutive matchups.

But the governor did not hold my Pennsylvania roots against me. In fact, he’s asked for my input at every meeting. And that’s telling. 

On calls filled with corporate executives and academics, he wanted to know what working people needed. 

And that’s because your governor gets New Jersey is only as strong as the working people who power it and build it and serve it.

During the pandemic, he’s signed legislation honoring the service and sacrifice of front-line workers. 

At first, if a front-line worker in New Jersey came down with COVID-19, they had to prove they contracted the virus at work to access workers' compensation. Governor Murphy changed that.

He knows nobody could have imagined the kind of danger and extreme challenges this pandemic would present essential workers with. 

Instead of paying lip service by telling workers we are heroes, Governor Murphy treats workers like heroes.

That’s the kind of governor every working person deserves.

Governor Murphy is easily one of the most pro-worker governors in America. 

And when all the votes are counted on November 7, workers are going to elect Governor Murphy to a second term.

And let’s send the governor back to Trenton with reinforcements—including the nearly 50-rank-and file union members on the ballot this November! 

Your labor candidate program is a crown jewel. In just two decades, the New Jersey State AFL-CIO has elected 1,138 labor candidates.

As I already mentioned, I came up in the coal mines of southwestern Pennsylvania.

When you’ve been laboring alongside your fellow workers two miles underground…

When you’ve been watching each other’s backs and fighting alongside them for your rights on the job…

You truly trust and understand each other in a very fundamental way.

You don’t just champion or support labor. You are labor!

One thing I’ve learned over my tenure in the labor movement is there’s no one I’d rather have at the decision-making table or in the halls of power than a union member!

Brothers and sisters, we have a chance to bring this state back and build it back better than it ever was.

So let’s knock on doors and make calls. Let’s talk to our friends and neighbors. Let’s turn out the vote like never before. 

We won’t back down. We won’t shut up. We won’t run and hide. 

Jersey strong! Union proud!

Thank you. And God bless you.