AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka delivered the following remarks at the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers Legislative Conference:
Thank you, Brother Newton [Jones], for your generous words of welcome, and for your leadership of this great union. As a Penn State fan, this is the only time I’m happy to be in a room full of Boilermakers.
As I begin, I want to congratulate you on your 50th legislative conference! Go ahead, give yourselves a round of applause!
Brothers and sisters, the Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers and Helpers stand for excellence, for high standards, safety, unity and for an unmatched commitment to training.
Those qualities make a powerful union, especially when we stand together as one big independent pro-worker political movement. We want to win a new set of economic rules to benefit regular working people, ALL working people, because we refuse to simply survive. We want our unions to thrive!
During this legislative conference, and during your time on Capitol Hill, I want you to think about the critical choices we face as a movement. You’ll be advocating for the WAGE Act, which would finally put real penalties on employers who break the law in order to deny us a voice on the job. You’ll be defending the Jones Act, which has been subject to baseless political attacks for decades. You’ll be demanding that Congress repeals… ONCE AND FOR ALL… the unfair tax on our health plans. And you’ll be calling for the energy, defense and infrastructure spending our nation desperately needs. This is not a Republican or Democratic agenda. It’s labor’s agenda. And our agenda leads our politics, not the other way around.
So I have a clear message today.
To those who stand with us and fight for us: thank you. We’ve got your back.
To those who are using their office to hurt us: we are coming for you.
And to those who have forgotten that labor helped get them elected in the first place: the hell with you.
Your party label can’t protect you anymore. We’re standing with those who stand with us!
Our political independence was on full display during the most recent special election in Pennsylvania.
Conor Lamb faced an uphill battle. Donald Trump had won the 18th Congressional District by more than 20 points. So Lamb came to us. He met with our leaders. He spoke in our union halls. He wore his support for our issues on his sleeve. And we turned out for him.
Labor made up 25 percent of the electorate. Lamb carried our households with over 60 percent. And the final margin of victory was just 755 votes.
That’s how Conor Lamb won . It’s a loud wake-up call for anyone hoping to do the same in 2018—and yes, 2020. Earning the support of working people is a high bar. It’s more than a handshake or a photo-op. And it extends well beyond the campaign trail.
Union members used our passion and resources to help elect candidate Lamb. Now we are going to use that same energy to hold Congressman Lamb accountable in office. Winning elections is only the first step. Winning pro-worker policies is the ultimate goal.
Working people proved that we will move heaven and earth to help a genuine ally. But we won’t waste a dime or a door knock on fair weather friends. If you want working people to rally around you, then you sure as hell better rally around us.
And it’s not just Pennsylvania. Working family candidates have outperformed expectations and won races in Iowa, Rhode Island, Kentucky, Washington, New Jersey, Maine, Virginia and Alabama, and that’s just the past few months.
We want every candidate to understand that the path to power runs through the American labor movement, brothers and sisters. That’s why our political independence is so important. That’s why we’re going to unleash the most dynamic member to member program in our history. That’s why we’ve got to keep organizing, keep mobilizing, keep educating, keep registering, keep marching, keep fighting and keep winning, because we want a new day and a new economy where people can work hard and get ahead! And we’ll do it! With the Boilermakers leading the way!
Our unionism… the passionate stand we take for ourselves, our communities and each other… has never been more important. We are the best organized voice for working people in America.
Yet the truth is we’ve been on defense for too long. Right to work. Janus. The attacks on federal employees. You name it. It is time to go on offense. Let’s drop our shield and pick up two swords.
We were able to make progress in the recent omnibus budget deal, securing some money to put Boilermakers to work. But we need more. Much more. And we can start by demanding investments to create good American jobs in clean energy as we pursue trillions of dollars in investments for the best infrastructure in the world.
It’s also time to update the National Labor Relations Act to protect ALL workers… union, non-union and never-heard-of-union. I already mentioned the WAGE Act. We also want to protect and expand retirement security with the Butch-Lewis Act, and we oppose any and all schemes that put our pensions at risk. People should be able to look forward to a secure, dignified retirement after a lifetime of work. Anything else is simply unacceptable.
To win the investments we need, America needs a fair tax system. Last Tuesday was Tax Day. As a result of President Trump’s bogus new law, working people footed the bill for over $1 trillion in giveaways to the rich and powerful. Not only does the new tax law provide corporations even more money to ship American jobs overseas… it gives the richest 1 percent a $33,000 tax cut while low-wage workers get just $40. Imagine that: billionaires get a new car, while the working poor gets a tank of gas.
We demand better, brothers and sisters. We demand universal health care. We demand real retirement security. We demand trade deals that raise wages and create jobs. We demand citizenship for immigrants. We demand equal pay for women and an end to sexual harassment. We demand dignity, rights, respect and a union for every worker—in construction and manufacturing, shipbuilding and railroads—in all the industries you represent.
Let’s show working people we can win, brothers and sisters! Let’s deliver the change America needs. It’ll take risk. It’ll take solidarity, but we can make it happen by standing together, marching together, fighting together…shoulder to shoulder…arm in arm…as long as it takes. To take America back! For workers! For the country we love! For each other!
When I talk about workers, I’m talking about our members, our friends, our family—people like my dad, and my uncles. I’m talking about folks like Cheryl Brouwer, a sixth-grade teacher in Oklahoma. Cheryl joined a walkout that closed schools statewide for more than a week. She did it to demand better pay and more school funding, so her students would have textbooks published in this century. She did it because she loves her work. That’s the same reason teachers walked out in Kentucky, Arizona and West Virginia, and I was so proud and happy when those teachers won.
This is a special moment in American history, brothers and sisters. I am proud to report to you today that more than 10,000 working people formed and joined unions last week. That’s right, I said WEEK! And guess what? We’re just getting started.
Solidarity is our strength. Think about it. The popularity of unions has been rising for years. It’s well over 60%, the highest in nearly two decades, and it’s even higher among young workers. Listen to this: 75% of workers under 30 have a favorable view of unions, including 55% of young Republicans.
A future of shared prosperity, of thriving unions and strong communities is ours to win.
Don’t for a moment think it’ll be easy. The forces of corporate greed are more powerful, organized and focused than anytime I can remember.
Yet none of us should doubt…not for a second…about how this all ends. Our movement is coming back, and we’re coming back strong!
This is our time. Every day, our union movement is growing stronger, because we’re fighting for something real. We’re fighting to lift up lives. We’re fighting for the transformation that comes with a collectively bargained contract. We’re fighting for solidarity. I know it. You know it. It’s like love. It can’t be fully measured. It has to be felt, and I want every worker in America to feel it, to feel the pride and power that comes with a union.
We’re ready to make progress, brothers and sisters. Each election, each time someone signs a membership card, each legislative battle…all of it showcases our growing clout in politics and our economy. Yet I believe you’ll soon see the impact of our momentum on an even broader level.
When more union members fill the halls of power…when wages rise and inequality shrinks…when we have more pro-labor Republicans and fewer corporate-beholden Democrats…when a growing number of young people see the value of democracy and know we can and will change the rules of this economy…when we stop defining victory as not losing…and most of all…when more workers realize our own value…that’s when you’ll know unions are on the rise.
That moment is close. I can feel it. I feel it in every union hall I visit and every picket line I stand on. I feel it when I talk to brave immigrants ready to come out of the shadows and working women who are saying enough is enough. And I feel it here today.
Never forget. We’re the ones who wake America every single morning. We tuck her into bed at night. We build the ships and make the roads. 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 America strong.
We don’t duck and run. We don’t run and hide. We are the American labor movement, and we will not be denied! Thank you. God bless you. God bless the work you do! Have a wonderful convention!