Speech | Better Pay and Benefits

Trumka to Florida AFL-CIO COPE Convention: Working People Can Make the Difference

Orlando, Florida
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka 2018 Florida AFL-CIO COPE Convention
Gary DeJidas

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka delivered the following remarks at the Florida AFL-CIO COPE Convention: 

Thank you! Florida, it’s good to be back!

Thank you, Brother Mike [Williams]. For nine years now, you’ve been at the helm of a movement that continues to defy the odds. You’re leading the fight to win a better future for working people across the state of Florida. We’re all better for it, and I’m proud to call you my brother and my friend.

Brothers and sisters, two years ago, I stood before you at a moment of unthinkable tragedy and unprecedented loss. The night before, a few miles from here, 49 people, mostly young, mostly queer and mostly Latino, were murdered at the Pulse nightclub in a cowardly act of violence.

Through that heartbreak, I remembered what the great openly gay labor and civil rights leader Bayard Rustin once said: “To be afraid is to behave as if the truth were not true.”

We in the labor movement are not afraid. We are united. We are determined.

Because we know the truth: That we stand together. That we fight together. That the struggle for working people is one to secure justice for everyone—for the power to live our lives freely and fully. That we will never leave anyone behind.

Solidarity. That’s the spirit of our movement. Unconditional. Uncompromising. And not just when the sun is shining. Solidarity means individual sacrifice to advance the common good.

Solidarity has delivered us here, and it will drive us forward.

Brothers and sisters, we need that solidarity now more than ever. The fight ahead of us has never been more important. And, we’ll only come out on top if we march ahead arm-in-arm.

Along the way, we’ve gathered a few true allies. Senator Bill Nelson is one of them.

He’s been a devoted advocate for working families, a tenacious defender of unions and an indispensable friend.

He has dedicated a lifetime of service to his country, to Florida and to working people. And through his top position on the Senate Commerce Committee, he’s fighting for us on the issues that matter most every single day.

And you know what else? He’s just a good guy! He may have spent six days in space, but he’s one of the most down-to-earth folks I’ve had the pleasure of working with.

Let me tell you, we need Bill Nelson by our side for another six years. So please, send him back to Washington.

And while you’re at it, send Rick Scott into retirement.

That name has been a dark cloud over Tallahassee for nearly eight years. His legacy is nothing short of a vicious, union-bashing crusade against Florida families.

20% of Floridians—one in five of your neighbors—are struggling to get by without health insurance. Yet, Scott refuses to expand Medicaid coverage to nearly a million working people.

Almost half of Floridians are struggling to pay for basic necessities. Yet, Scott is content to watch them continue toiling under a meager minimum wage that doesn’t pay the bills or put food on the table.

Teachers are placing themselves between their students and barrages of bullets. Yet, Scott is focused on dismantling their unions.

And here’s what drives it home for me. Hundreds of Florida workers are dying on the job each year. Families are losing loved ones to preventable, unnecessary workplace hazards. Yet, Scott decided to gut the Department of Health.

That’s Rick Scott’s record. Fewer rights for working people. Less money in your pocket. More dangerous workplaces. Open hostility to unions.

Now, he wants to take that legacy to Washington.

Brothers and sisters, are we going to let that happen?

Hell no!

Meanwhile, Rick Scott’s lackies are looking to carry on his destructive work in Tallahassee.

Brothers and sisters, are we going to let that happen?

Hell no!

We’re going to rally around Bill Nelson. We’re going to reclaim the Governor’s Mansion for working people. And we’re going to secure the economic future that Floridians have earned through lifetimes of hard work.

This is a time for driven leadership. Not more cookie cutter politicians whose positions on big issues change with the season. Marco Rubio was once a voice for comprehensive immigration reform. Now he backs the Trump approach. We have a word for people like him in Pennsylvania: jackass.

We deserve honesty and compassion from our leaders. Not the federal inaction that has resulted in the deaths of nearly 5,000 fellow citizens in Puerto Rico.

And we deserve fighters for working people. Someone who will call out Disney for allowing their employees to live in crushing poverty right here in Orlando. Someone who will fight for a day when working at the happiest place on earth means earning a living wage.

Brothers and sisters, something is happening in America. And it all comes down to one simple question: What kind of future are we going to build for ourselves?

Quite frankly, I’ve never been more optimistic.

Workers aren’t sitting quietly as the wealthy rig the rules of the economy we built. Our members are leading a revolution to demand what we’ve rightfully earned.

We see it in the historic teacher strikes sweeping the country. We see it in the hundreds of thousands of workers forming and joining unions. We see it in the countless young people rejecting the status quo and seeking the rights that come with a union card.

Union membership is up. Our popularity has been rising for years. It’s well over 60%, the highest in nearly two decades, and it’s even higher among young workers. 15,000 people just organized new unions in a single week.

It’s up to you to take it from here.

Now is the time! The wind is at our backs! We’re organizing, we’re marching, we’re voting, and you know what? We’re winning!

From Pennsylvania to New Jersey to Wisconsin to Kentucky, we’re electing pro-worker candidates in every corner of the country.

That’s what we can do when working people are riled up and ready to make lasting change. That’s what we can do when we take our energy to the campaign trail—when we unleash the power of the best union-run, member-to-member campaign we’ve ever seen.

We’re ready to commit the resources it takes to win, here in Florida and around the nation. But, we can’t do it alone. You’ve gotta be ready to take the batton and run it across the finish line.

I know you have the capacity to carry us this year. I’ve seen you do it before.

After the Tea Party wave in 2010, things looked bleak. Right-wing, corporate interests swept into office, and Scott settled in with plenty of allies.

But for years, time and again, working Floridians took action. You mobilized. You looked that challenge in the face and rallied together. And you know what happened?

You won!

You defended public-sector unions’ freedom to advocate in the halls of power.

You defeated an outrageous plan to shutter the Florida Retirement System.

You blocked the largest prison privatization proposal in American history.

You protected the State Group Health Insurance program.

You ensured that Project Labor Agreements would continue to protect working people on the job.

YOU did that. You showed the corporate political establishment what we could do.

So, what built those victories? What makes the difference in these fights?

Brothers and sisters, the difference is made by the force and will of working people! That difference is made on a Sunday afternoon knocking doors. It’s made at a phone bank after a long day’s work. It’s made in a conversation with a friend on the job.

That difference isn’t made in Washington. It’s made in Pensacola and Miami and Jacksonville and right here in Orlando. It’s made by working people giving what precious time and energy we have to build a brighter future.

Are you ready to seize this moment?

Working people can make the difference for candidates when it counts. We can make a difference when we fight FOR something.

Brothers and sisters, that’s exactly what we’re doing.

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 solidarity.

We’re ready to make progress, brothers and sisters. Each election, each organizing drive, each legislative battle…will showcase our growing clout. Yet I believe you’ll 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 that 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 and the power of solidarity…that’s when you’ll know unions are on the rise.

That moment is here. 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, working women who are saying enough is enough and LGBTQ people who refuse to be silenced by hate. I feel it in the working people—teachers and nurses, flight attendants and graduate workers, our brothers and sisters at Disney World—who are fighting to overturn a rigged system that has left them behind for decades. And I feel it here today.

Let’s send a message to anyone who would deny us what’s rightfully ours...to Rick Scott...to every corporate-bought politician: We’re not going anywhere!

Let’s send Bill Nelson back to Washington. Let’s send a friend of working people to Tallahassee. Brothers and sisters, the future of Florida is in your hands! Now it’s time to deliver!

Because we’re the ones who wake America every single morning. We tuck her into bed at night. We build the cars, we fly the planes and make the roads. We lift the loads and ship the goods. 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! And God bless the work you do!


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