Speech | Better Pay and Benefits

Trumka at Great Lakes District Strategy Session: "It is time to go on offense."

Detroit, Michigan

Thank you, brothers and sisters.

This has been a very productive meeting. We covered a lot of ground.

We talked about the political landscape, the need to increase our density and the ways we can use the 2018 election to engage with our members.

We talked about the Workers’ Bill of Rights and our Path to Power program which is helping elect more union members to office.

We talked about the threats of Janus and right to work and our power to overcome them.

And we also made some important asks. I’d like to reiterate those one final time.

  • In the next week, log into the LAN and pull the list of possible union member candidates for your state or union and confirm if they are elected officials.
  • Incorporate Common Sense Economics into your worksite activities, endorsement screenings and all other Labor 2018 member communication plans.
  • As soon as possible, assign Local Union Coordinators for your largest 10 locals in each state PLUS any other locals with 500+ members.
  • Participate in a moment of silence on February 1 as we mark the 50th anniversary of the tragic events that touched off the 1968 Memphis Sanitation Workers’ Strike.
  • Join the Working People’s Day of Action on February 24 as the Supreme Court takes up Janus.

I am confident that we will leave here today with a clear vision and mission for growing our movement and winning worker power.

This has never been more important.

President Trump won the Great Lakes by promising a new day for working people.

He said the right things about trade, infrastructure and manufacturing. He talked about holding Wall Street accountable.

He tapped into the anger and frustration of those who are working harder for less.

I believe the lesson of 2016 is that we have to engage with our members. If we don’t, someone else will. We need to establish ironclad member relationships that are stronger than any politician.

Brothers and sisters,let’s make it clear to every working person in Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania that the change they are looking for can be found by standing together in unions.

We are the only organized voice for working people in America.

If you’re a coal miner who wants to be safe on the job, join a union. If you’re a teacher who wants a voice at work, join a union. If you’re a single mother who wants equal pay, join a union. If you’re an immigrant worker who wants respect, dignity and rights, join a union. If you’re LGBTQ and want to make sure you can never be fired because of who you are, join a union.

And guess what: workers are joining!

Last week, the annual numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics came out. We gained 260,000 new union members nationwide. Most of these increases were aligned with growth in the economy, but we made gains nonetheless, in a very difficult organizing environment.

Labor unions here in Michigan added 52,000 members. Tens of thousands of workers signed union cards in right to work states and right to work shops. And three quarters of new union members are under the age of 34. The future is bright!

As we gain density, we gain power. As we grow in numbers, we grow in influence. That’s how we start to build the America working people need.

Brothers and sisters, we’ve been on defense for too long. It is time to go on offense.

We want a good job for everyone in America who wants to work. That means the freedom to bargain with your employer for a fair wage and a good life.

We want health care as a fundamental human right.

We should be expanding Medicare to cover everyone 55 and older. We should rein in the power and influence of drug companies. And we should repeal the tax on union health plans once and for all.

We want retirement security. Real retirement security!  Let’s expand Social Security and protect our pensions.

We want the best infrastructure in the world. Roads. Bridges. Rail. High speed internet. Water that doesn’t poison our citizens. That requires trillions of dollars in investment. Donald Trump talked about being a “builder president.” Mr. President, put up or shut up. Let’s start breaking ground. Let’s start laying bricks. Let’s rebuild this country with union labor and prevailing wages.

We want trade deals that actually work for working people. NAFTA is crushing the Great Lakes. And the new tax law gives companies even more incentives to ship American jobs overseas. Working people are demanding a new direction on trade that upholds labor rights and ends special privileges for corporations. And we are calling for an end to each and every tax break that rewards outsourcing.

Last but not least, we want immigrant workers to have the freedom to negotiate for a better life. These are our brothers and sisters. They make our movement and our country strong. An attack on one worker is an attack on all of us. Congress needs to restore TPS and DACA and finally pass comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship.

This agenda is the backbone of our political program. We are committed to electing leaders who share our values and support our issues, regardless of the letter next to their name. It’s important for our members to understand that electoral wins don’t always translate into good policy.

That’s why we will never shy away from opportunities to advance the issues we care about, no matter who happens to be in power. It’s why we must hold every elected leader accountable, regardless of what party they belong to. And it’s a reminder how important it is to elect more union members to office.

Brothers and sisters, there is no substitute for working people bargaining collectively for a fair share of the wealth we help create. It leads to higher wages, better benefits, safer workplaces and a more robust economy. Corporations and their hired politicians have been waging war on the fundamental right to collective bargaining for decades, spending hundreds of millions of dollars to deny us a voice. The political attack on unions has left America weaker. But we’re not going anywhere.

Today there are millions of Americans who want and need a union but are being prevented from forming one by their employer. And instead of penalizing bad actors, our outdated labor laws have made suppressing the voice of workers nothing more than the cost of doing business. This must change.

Working people are ready to turn the tide, go on offense and win. We see it every day from
coast to coast, in industries far and wide. 260,000 is just the tip of the iceberg.

This much is clear: our job has never been more important. Our unity has never been stronger. We are ready to do the hard work of rebuilding the American Dream. That is our agenda. That is the way forward.

Let’s show working people we can win! Let’s deliver the change America is hungry for. 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… let’s do it! To take America back! For workers! For the country we love! Thank you very much!

Explore the Issue