Speech | Better Pay and Benefits

Trumka Defines Victory for Working People at Midwest District Meeting

Chicago, Illinois

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka delivered the following opening remarks at the Midwest District Meeting: 

Thank you, Brother Mike (Carrigan). And thank you all for being here.

As I begin, I want to reinforce what Katie said about our Code of Conduct. We simply will not tolerate any form of harassment, discrimination or bullying. If you experience or see something, report it to one of the designees.

Today in this room we have the best trade unionists in the Midwest region. You are the labor movement’s eyes and ears. Every role and every job is represented here today. It is not an exaggeration to say the future of our movement and our country is in your hands.

In October, we gathered in St. Louis for the national AFL-CIO convention. We left that important event with a bold vision for the future. And we adopted a comprehensive policy agenda focused on rewriting the rules of our economy so working people can fairly share in the wealth we help create.

To realize that vision and win that agenda, we need to execute the basics. I can tell you from my football coaching days that the best teams are sound in the trenches. They block well and they tackle well. For us, that means engaging with our members on issues. It means organizing inside and outside of our unions. It means forming alliances with community partners. And it means holding our elected officials accountable, no matter what party they happen to belong to.

Our goal for this meeting is to unite around a common purpose and strategy to win back power for workers. Over the next several hours, we’ll look at ways to neutralize Janus and right to work by organizing internally. We’ll dive into our Path to Power program which is electing union members to office from coast to coast. We’ll discuss the ways we are using data and technology to break new ground in politics AND organizing. And we’ll lay out our Labor 2018 program, with a focus on talking to our members about issues.

Let me be clear. We will aim to defeat every attack on either the institutions of our labor movement or the core values we hold dear—freedom, equality, justice, fairness and the rights to assemble and speak freely.

We will use every fight to educate our members about the threats we face and more importantly, our power to overcome them.

And we will do the hard work of rebuilding the American Dream for everyone who calls this country home.

That’s exactly what’s happening here in the Midwest region.

When anti-worker legislators passed right to work in Missouri, you didn’t sulk. You pounded the pavement, collecting more than three times the signatures necessary to put that law on the ballot this fall. And come November 6, we’re going to put right to work where it belongs…in the trash.

In Iowa, the enemies of labor passed a sweeping law requiring public sector unions to hold recertification elections before negotiating new contracts. In response, The New Republic ran a headline saying: “Republicans Are Set to Destroy Iowa’s Labor Unions.” Well, guess what? They didn’t destroy us. Over 93% of Iowa public sector bargaining units were recertified.

And here in Chicago, when hospitality workers faced an epidemic of sexual harassment, the Chicago Federation of Labor and UNITE HERE Local 1 launched a massive campaign called “Hands Off, Pants On,” winning a citywide ordinance mandating that housekeepers receive panic buttons so they can alert hotel security when they feel threatened. Last night, I had the privilege of spending some time with workers from Local 1. It was a vivid reminder that we are a movement of heroes.

The test of 2018…and beyond…will be to build on these successes. Each election, each organizing drive, each legislative battle…will showcase our growing clout. But I believe you’ll see our impact on an even broader level.

When more union members fill the halls of power…when wages go up 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…when we stop defining victory as simply not losing...and most of all...when more workers realize their own value and power…that’s when you’ll know unions are on the rise.

That moment is close. 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. I feel it in the West Virginia teachers who courageously went out on strike and won a 5 percent raise for ALL state employees. And I feel it here today.

We are the only ones who can deliver the massive economic and social change working people are hungry for.

That’s what we’re going to do.

That’s what this meeting is all about.

So let’s get to work.

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