Speech | Corporate Greed · Better Pay and Benefits

Trumka to Indiana State AFL-CIO: We're Not Backing Down

Indianapolis, Indiana

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka delivered the following remarks at the Indiana State AFL-CIO Convention:

Good morning, brothers and sisters. Thank you, Brother Brett (Voorhies), for that very kind introduction. You have poured your heart and soul into our federation. In the face of right to work and a right-wing state government, you have rallied working people around an agenda of good jobs, great benefits and the freedom to form a union. Through old-fashioned solidarity and new tools like LaborKey and your very own Indiana AFL-CIO app, this labor movement is united, strong and growing. So on behalf of the entire AFL-CIO, I want to congratulate you, Brother Shawn, Brother Rob (Henderson) and Sister Uno (Blessed Coons) for a job well done.

It’s certainly a great time to be in the labor movement. Workers are rising. We are refusing to settle for less. Teachers and hotel workers and grocery store employees are walking out and demanding better. From the Midwest to Silicon Valley, in industries both established and emerging, collective action is on the rise. Workers are using every tool at our disposal to win what we’ve earned. 

As you probably know, 50,000 GM workers, proud members of the UAW, have been out on strike for the past 16 days. I saw pictures of Brother Brett on the picket line in Marion. I want to all of you for your solidarity. 

So what are these workers fighting for? Let me take you back to 2008. GM was on the brink. It was going under...and fast. The American people rescued GM with our tax dollars. And UAW members gave up their own wages...their own benefits...to carry GM out of bankruptcy. They sacrificed and toiled to preserve an American icon.

But autoworkers didn’t just save GM. They delivered years of record-breaking profits.

Today, GM is pulling in tens of billions of dollars every year. Their CEO is the highest-paid auto executive in the world. 

So what does that CEO do?

She closes plants.

She outsources jobs.

She stonewalls bargaining.

She shows her workers the door and strips away their health care.

She stabs 50,000 working families in the back out of all-consuming greed.

Brothers and sisters, the boss is never going to hand us what we deserve. We have to take it.

And guess what? After public pressure and a national outcry from workers across this nation, GM reinstated health care for its workers. 

We did that! That wasn’t corporate benevolence. It was worker power. And now it’s time to finish the job. 

UAW is showing us how to build a just future for ourselves. Their fearlessness is a reminder that the only way to fight back is by FIGHTING BACK.

To every GM executive, hear me loud and hear me clear: Workers built, saved and rebuilt your company. You owe them everything you have.

And until that debt is paid...we’re not going anywhere!

We’re not shutting up! 

We’re not backing down!

We’re going to march, shout and fight every day until our brothers and sisters get what they deserve!

Brothers and sisters, I also want to say this: Once the UAW wins this strike and goes back to work, I sincerely hope they come back to the Indiana AFL-CIO. 

At this time of challenge and opportunity, we must stand strong as one movement and one union family. Together, we win.

Because make no mistake, our enemies are relentless, well-funded and dead set on removing us from the playing field. 

You’ve dealt with it here in Indiana time and time again. 

In 2006, Mitch Daniels told the Teamsters he opposed right to work. In 2012, he signed it into law. 

In the years since, thanks to partisan gerrymandering, the Hoosier State has drifted even further into anti-worker hands.

Prevailing wage was repealed. Businesses were given a license to discriminate in the name of religion.

And what about the help you were promised from Washington? Here in Indianapolis, Carrier and Rexnord closed their doors. Donald Trump is nowhere to be found. And Mike Pence had the nerve to tell GM workers that the administration's new NAFTA deal—which has no way of being enforced and is unanimously opposed by the labor movement—was the answer to our woes. 

You know what, brothers and sisters? Instead of continuing to send jobs overseas, how about we send Mike Pence back to Columbus?

And what about his boss? Trump told us he was our friend. He asked us to trust him. And now the circus is in town.

Watching the news these days can be almost too much to bear.

Americans are being scapegoated, minimized, dehumanized and told to go back where they came from. The free press is under attack. The very foundation of our democracy is being chipped away.

Our nation’s welcome mat, long a beacon of hope for immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers, including my parents, is being bulldozed and paved over, replaced with a clear message: “you’re not welcome here.”

The president uses his Twitter account to demean and divide rather than inform and inspire. He routinely picks on the most vulnerable among us—women of color, people with disabilities, transgender Americans, immigrants—even Gold Star families.

And what about the promises to protect American jobs, fix NAFTA and invest in infrastructure...what about the president’s pledge to change the economic rules? Well, he’s changed the rules all right—but not to benefit any of us.

Wall Street got another windfall tax cut. His proposed new NAFTA is unenforceable—and companies are still leaving for Mexico. We haven’t spent a penny on infrastructure. Workplace safety regulations have been gutted. The White House is attacking union-registered apprenticeships. And just last week, the Trump Administration blocked nearly 3 million workers from receiving overtime pay while lifelong union-buster Eugene Scalia secured his seat atop the Department of Labor.

When I think about these attacks...I get angry. But then I talk to workers. I stand in rooms like this. I march on picket lines. And I remember something my grandmother used to tell me. Stana tupe benne. In Italian, it means: from everything comes some good.

I’ve been at this for more than 50 years...and I’ve never been more optimistic about the labor movement. At a time when our politics and our culture wants us isolated and bitter and ready to blame, working people are, instead, turning to each other. Union approval is at 64 percent, the highest in nearly 50 years. 2018 was the biggest year for collective action in a generation. MIT found that more than 60 million workers would vote to join a union today if given the chance.

You are helping to drive that progress here in Indiana. Using his seat on the airport authority and working with our fire and police unions, Brother Brett won approval of an ordinance giving public safety workers the right to organize at Indianapolis International Airport. That’s how we put ourselves in position to win. 

And that’s why we are fighting to pass the PRO Act—Protecting the Right to Organize. The PRO Act would let us do our jobs without interference from anti-union employers or anti-worker politicians. 

We have wanted labor law reform for a long time, so workers can fairly choose to form or join unions. Well, sometimes you've got to knock on the door before you get in. We've been knocking. How many of you remember the Employee Free Choice Act? It was the first major piece of labor reform legislation in a generation or more, and we came up just a few votes short. 

In the years since that setback, the labor movement has never stopped educating working people and legislators about the importance of raising wages through fair and modern labor laws. The PRO Act is our strongest bill yet—and I have good news—it was just approved last week by the House Education and Labor Committee.

The PRO Act protects the right to strike. It rolls back right to work. It includes first contract arbitration, substantial relief for workers whose rights have been violated and real penalties for employers who break the law.

And here is one of the most underrated pieces of this legislation. It removes the employer’s standing in representation cases. The choice to form a union should be that of workers alone. They don’t ask for our input when making a decision about work. So they have no business attempting to influence who we choose to sit at the bargaining table.

Rising collective action. Soaring approval. Successful strikes. The PRO Act. Brothers and sisters, something is happening in America.

In the richest country in the world...at our richest point in history...workers are deciding that one job should be enough!

That no one should go broke just because they get sick.

That no one should earn less because of their gender.

That no one should be fired for who they are. Did you hear that Mike Pence?

Everyone should have a voice.

Everyone should have a fair shot and a fair shake.

And everyone should be able to form a union.

Brothers and sisters, are you with me?

This is our time. This is our moment. This is our country. And we’re taking it back for the people who work!

Brothers and sisters, one of the single best ways to build on this momentum is by electing more of our own to office. At the 2017 AFL-CIO Convention, we passed a resolution committing the labor movement to this goal.

In the nearly two years since, that’s exactly what we’ve done. We elected nearly 1,000 union members in 2018 alone.

And under Brother Brett’s leadership, the Indiana AFL-CIO is getting in the game. It’s a program called Path to Power. You’ll be hearing more about this tomorrow from Sister Maggie (Koebbe), our National Field Director. A strong crop of union members won office in the last election. 6 State Reps. 2 State Senators. Seats on town councils and school boards. With Path to Power, we’re going to build on this foundation, putting our brothers and sisters at decision-making tables across Indiana.

2020 is going to be the year of the union.

And that includes winning back the White House.

Look, there are plenty of people running for president. Some we know well. Others are new faces. Many are friends. For example, everyone in this room and this state should be proud of the campaign being run Pete Buttigieg.

But this election is so much bigger than any one individual.

2020 cannot be about personalities.

It MUST be about workers.

That means talking to us and getting to know us.

It means visiting our worksites and our union halls. It means marching on our picket lines. It means learning about our hopes and dreams and understanding our concerns. It means being just as pro-union when you’re at the Farm Bureau and the Chamber of Commerce as you are at a Labor Day picnic.

It means knowing inside and out how our trade, tax, labor and immigration policies have been used to batter working families. And being ready to fix them on day one.

It means filling the NLRB, the Labor Department, every single government agency and the courts with champions of collective bargaining.

The late governor of New York, Mario Cuomo, said you campaign in poetry...and you govern in prose. But for too long, our elected leaders have campaigned in promises and governed in excuses.

Or worse.

We’re refusing to accept business as usual. Not when...in some parts of the country...it’s still harder to form a union than climb a mountain. Not when 40 percent of Americans don’t have $400 in the bank for an emergency. Not when in the past 30 years, the top 1 percent has gained $21 trillion in wealth, while the bottom 50 percent has lost $900 billion.

But...if you join us...and fight for us…and walk in our shoes...we will move heaven and earth to elect you.

And together, we can put this country back where it belongs...in the hands of the workers who make it go.

We’ll march for it. We’ll organize for it. We’ll fight for it.

Brothers and sisters, are you ready to fight? ARE YOU READY TO FIGHT?

We’re going to fight for higher pay.

We’re going to fight for better health care.

We’re going to fight for a secure retirement.

And, we’re going to fight for an economy where every worker...every single worker...has the freedom to form a union and bargain collectively.

We’ve earned it, brothers and sisters. We teach, heal and make. We package, print and bake. We put food on the table. We care for the sick. We build the cars and fight the fires. We serve our nation with dignity and pride. We stand tall. We don’t run and hide. We wake our country up every single day, and we tuck her into bed at night!

WE are the American labor movement...and we will not...WE WILL NOT...be denied!

Thank you, brothers and sisters! God bless you!


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