Speech | Better Pay and Benefits · Right to Work

Trumka Highlights Labor's Ascension in Land of Janus

Gurnee, Illinois

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka delivered the following remarks accepting the Northeastern Illinois Federation of Labor's 23rd Annual Person of the Year Award.

Thank you, Brother Mike (Carrigan), for that overly kind introduction. You and Tim (Drea) are doing an incredible job leading the labor movement forward in this state. I also want to recognize Pat (Statter) and Sue (Gilbert) for their great work here in Lake and McHenry counties. And, my thanks to Ron and Steve (Powell) from Local 881 UFCW for your decades of leadership in Chicago, and Brother Bob (Reiter)...congratulations on your recent election.

Congressman (Brad) Schneider, thank you for being a true friend of labor.

And, to the entire Northeastern Illinois Federation: Thank you for this award. I’m deeply honored.

You know, Mike is an award winner, too. If you hadn’t heard, he recently became the first person from Illinois to receive the World Peace Prize and be recognized as a Roving Ambassador for Peace. It’s a well-deserved honor.

And, Pat, I heard that you’re celebrating 35 years with the Northeastern Illinois Federation this week. Congratulations, brother. I was proud to earn my 50-year pin from the United Mine Workers earlier this year.

You know, I looked it up, and for the 35th anniversary, you’re supposed to get gifts of coral. But, I’ll tell you, Brother Pat, I didn’t bring you any tonight. Because when you think about it, coral retreats when in danger.

And, that’s not what you do here in Illinois. You don’t turn and run. You stand and fight!

It’s that Prairie State attitude that’s changing the direction of not just Illinois, but our entire nation.

Brothers and sisters: Something is happening in America. Collective action is on the rise, and it’s one of the most exciting things I’ve experienced in a very long time.

The teacher strikes. #MeToo. Black Lives Matter. Students speaking out for safer schools. Marriott workers demanding that “One job should be enough.”

From coast to coast, and all through the heartland of America, ordinary people are recognizing that the best way to win is by standing with the person next to us. And as a labor movement, it’s our job to ignite the flames of justice, not contain them.

Working people are rising up. Look at what we did in Missouri this summer: With more than 67 percent of the vote, we sent right to work into the garbage where it belongs!

We spoke to members at more than 1,000 different worksites. We knocked more than 800,000 doors. And, we made more than 1 million phone calls....talking about good union jobs and the power of collective action.

And, it wasn’t even close! Democrats voted no. Half of Republicans voted no. 937,000 Missourians...from every community and background...stood up together and said hell no!

The Chamber of Commerce said that, for every punch they threw, working people threw ten more. Even the Wall Street Journal editorial board warned CEOs that unions are on the attack.

Damn right, we are!

And, we’re rallying our own like never before. Last month in Chicago, our IBEW brothers and sisters held their largest organizing conference ever, training 1,800 organizers to recruit others to join our movement.

Americans are paying attention to unions and what we can offer. 262,000 new members joined unions in 2017....and here’s the best part...three quarters of them were under the age of 35. We’re rallying the next generation to our cause, and Gallup just put our popularity at 62 percent—a 15-year high. New research from MIT shows that half of non-union workers would vote for a union today if given the chance. That’s more than 60 million people—the population of Italy.

And, who could blame them! We transform lives!

Economists at Princeton have confirmed what we’ve known all along...unions raise wages up to 20 percent...decade after decade.

And, that’s not all: We negotiate quality benefits….a reasonable work schedule….and a voice on the job. We make work safe and retirement secure. We build the economic future that our kids and grandkids deserve!

But this is about more than dollars and cents: it’s about a better life, for all working people, no matter who you love or how you worship, no matter the color of your skin or where you were born.   

Unions have always been at the core of this country’s fundamental promise, and I’ll be damned if we’re going to stop now!

This is the year of the worker. We’re rising together to reject an economy that only works for a handful of elites. We rising together to demand better.

Brothers and sisters, hear me loud and clear: We will not back down or settle for less! We won’t be silenced! We won’t be tossed aside! And, we sure as hell won’t sit down and shut up!

Let’s reclaim America for working people!

Let’s reclaim the future for our kids!

Let’s show every robber baron and corporate hack that we aren’t going anywhere!

We love this country! We built her from the ground up...and we’re TAKING...HER...BACK!

Brothers and sisters, we have a tremendous opportunity in front of us here in Northeastern Illinois. We have the power to change the status quo. In the end, this is more than just an election. This is our make it or break it moment. This is our future.

So, we’ve got to stand behind the people who stand behind us. It doesn’t matter if they have “D”, “R” or “I” after their name. If you fight for us, we’ll fight like hell for you.

That’s why we’re proud to support real allies like Congressman Schneider. He has stood up for the rights of workers to collectively bargain and repeatedly fought against attempts to repeal prevailing wage. Brothers and sisters, I want him fighting for us back in Washington, and I know you do, too!

Lauren Underwood is going to join him as a fierce advocate for working people in the House.

We’re going to send Peter Roskam back into the arms of his corporate cronies, and elect Sean Casten as the next Congressman in the 6th District!

And, when we elect a pro-worker majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, Illinois is going to be a big reason why.

But make no mistake, the labor movement’s fight isn’t just about the halls of Congress. We’re pushing just as hard at the state and local level.

And, on November 6th...on that sweet, sweet night...we’re going to stand shoulder-to-shoulder, raise our fists high in the air and tell Bruce Rauner to get the hell outta here!

We’re going to cut Bruce loose.

The nerve this guy has.

He refused to pass a budget...for two years!

He raised taxes, but refused to raise the minimum wage.

He underfunded pensions, yet he kept the state in the red.

And, he tried repeatedly to repeal prevailing wage and Project Labor Agreements.

Bruce Rauner tried over and over again to pass right to work, gut collective bargaining and silence workers.

Remember his “Turnaround Agenda?” Well, he sure turned things around, alright... and around....and around again until he sent Illinois on a downward spiral that was only stopped by some good folks in Springfield. Our folks.

No wonder the conservative National Review calls him “The Worst Republican Governor in America!” They can drop the word “Republican”, and they’d still be right.

We all know how gleeful Rauner was to file a lawsuit against the labor movement. He was like Mr. Scrooge on pay day.

And, when he was eventually booted off the case, his powerful corporate friends swooped in and recruited Mark Janus, a former state worker in Springfield, who told reporters that he thought collective bargaining is “beneficial to people and workers.”

Hey, at least you got that right, Mark!

Look, brothers and sisters, we know the truth: This case was never about Mark Janus. He was a political pawn recruited by Bruce Rauner’s corporate buddies to try and take down working people.

And after using his name to screw over public employees nationwide, Janus quit his job as a child support specialist and became a senior fellow with the right-wing Illinois Policy Institute.

This is politics at its absolute worst.

So now Bruce Rauner has the gall to ask the working people he sold out to let him keep his job?

I’ve got two words for you, Bruce: HELL NO!

But we can’t ride a wave to victory. It takes work!

So, I need you to volunteer. I need you to door knock and phone bank. If you haven’t yet, send local union mail to your members. Have conversations at the worksite. Come join us for a labor walk tomorrow morning at IFT Local 504. 9 a.m. sharp!

Brothers and sisters, in 18 days, we’re going to fire Bruce Rauner once and for all.

We’re going to elect J.B. Pritzker as the next governor of the great state of Illinois!

And, we’re going to take back this state for ALL working people!

When I think about the attacks against us...from corporations...from the Supreme Court...from anti-worker politicians like Bruce Rauner...I get angry. And sometimes, I even get discouraged.

But on the darkest of days, I remember something my grandmother used to tell me. Stana tupe benne. In Italian, it means: from everything comes some good.

Now you might be wondering….what good can come from Janus and the proposals to gut our health care and financial and retirement security? What good can come from a Supreme Court that rules with corporations 90 percent of the time and just gave Brett Kavanaugh the biggest promotion of his life?

What good can come from a governor and a president who have used their power and office to actively hurt working people?

Here’s the answer: The vicious attacks on our unions have brought us closer together.

Our bond is stronger. Our memory is longer.

Remember, throughout the entire history of our movement, we’ve never had anything handed to us.

Every speck of progress was clawed from the hands of those who said we were asking too much...who tried to destroy us with one hand and dismissed us as radicals with the other. They considered us a conspiracy in restraint of trade. They said dignity...fairness...a safe job...were too much to ask.

In the face of seemingly insurmountable opposition, we steadily built a fairer economy and a more just society...because we had one advantage on our side: Solidarity.

Solidarity overcame their money and power.

American greatness...American decency...the American Dream itself was built through solidarity...as workers joined arms and marched forward as one in common cause.

Each time they fired us...or shot at us...or told us to sit down and shut up...we grew stronger.

Bonded by a common struggle, working people kept fighting and discovered a fundamental truth that carries us to this day: You can’t stop ALL of us.

We are an unassailable force when—and only when—we stand together.

I remember back when my son Richard was young—maybe three or four years old. He and his buddy Chad were driving around in the backyard in one of those battery operated jeeps.

He must have heard me talking on the phone, because he drove up and asked: “Dad, what’s a union?”

So, I told him to get out of the jeep and try to push it up the hill in our backyard. He strained and struggled, but he couldn’t get it up the hill. Then I told his friend Chad to give him a hand. Working together, they got the job done. I looked right at my son and said: “That’s a union...people doing things together that they can’t do alone.”

Against all odds, the labor movement is climbing that hill. Today, there is a multi-billion dollar industry dedicated to destroying us.

Well, guess what? We’re still standing.

And we’re not just surviving. We’re growing. We’re marching. We’re striking. We’re winning.

Unions are on the move. In every city and every state. Young and old. Black and white. Immigrant and native-born. Gay and straight. Rural and urban. Republican and Democrat.

We’re rising in solidarity…real solidarity…where your picket line is my picket line, and my picket line is your picket line.

We’re spoiling for a fight. I say, bring it on! We've taken their best shot, and we're still standing. We’re the true American patriots. We’re fearless. We’re strong. We’re powerful. We’re united.

Because we’re the ones who wake our nation up every single morning. We tuck her into bed at night. We build the ships and mine the coal. 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 this country strong.

We don’t duck and run. We don’t run and hide.

We’re the American labor movement, and we will not...WE WILL NOT...be denied!

Thank you! God bless you!

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