Trumka: Labor and Allies Uniquely Positioned to Make Big Structural Change

Thank you so much, Erica [Smiley]. On behalf of AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler and our 56 unions, it is an honor to join all of you on this call, and be with so many old friends in the struggle for a more equal society and brighter future for working people. You push the envelope. You invest in change. You drive activism. You make a difference. 

When I was young, and working in a coal mine, I thought a lot about what I would do with my life. I was drawn to the labor movement for one simple reason: I believed there was no greater force for economic and social justice than workers coming together in unions to exercise our collective power. I experienced the union difference...in my own family...my own community...and across our country. But in the years since, those rights have been hacked away. Workers who try to improve their lives are far too often met with retaliation, intimidation, loss of employment, and the list goes on. And this silencing of working people has profoundly hurt our country and threatened our democracy. 

But working people have fought back. All my life we have been pushing for a rewrite of America’s labor laws. The National Labor Relations Act was signed by FDR in 1935. Nearly 100 years and every change since—from Taft-Hartley to last week’s Supreme Court ruling in Cedar Point—has been an attack on working people. Under Democratic and Republican presidents. Through both Democratic and Republican Congresses. 

And where has that led? Wages held down for decades as profits skyrocket. Runaway inequality. Inequality of income, opportunity...and most of all, power. Our democracy is hanging on by a thread—as private equity billionaires fund legal attacks on voting rights and inspire actual terrorist attacks on our Capitol. 

This must change. It must change now. America must build a future based on democracy— political democracy and democracy at work. We must make big, structural change that empowers working people—all working people. And the leaders in this meeting...all of us...are uniquely positioned to do it. Together. 

We believe the single best agent for change is the PRO Act. We must pass the PRO Act so that the 60 million workers who want to join a union right now can do so freely and fairly. We also recognize that the majority of working people are women and people of color. And when working people organize, the power of our unity eclipses the differences between us. That's why passing the PRO Act is not just about rising wages, it’s about racial justice and gender justice, immigrant rights and LGBTQ rights. Collective action and collective power would lift more families and communities to a better life, in urban centers and Appalachia, in Big Tech and the American South. Like the New Deal and the civil rights movement, the PRO Act will have a multiplying effect, boosting efforts to fight climate change, win racial justice and fix our democracy. 

But here is the bottom line, and I hope it can shape our discussion today. The labor movement alone cannot pass the PRO Act. We need a broader coalition to win. One as big and broad as the hopes and aspirations of the American people. And we cannot win a progressive agenda for America’s future, from the For the People Act to the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, without a stronger labor movement. Either we pass this agenda together, or we watch it sink alone. Simply put, you can’t change America if you don’t change our labor laws. And trust me, if we fail to deliver the progress our country is demanding today, the racists and authoritarians are waiting in the wings.  

So what we do in these next weeks...and months...and over the next year...may well set the table for decades. And I am absolutely convinced that we have the public’s support, the president’s support and the resources and brainpower in each of our organizations...to come together and shock the world. Listen, there is no shortage of skeptics. I’m hearing it from friends and allies alike, and I’m sure you are too. The path is too small. Time is too short. What about the filibuster?

Let me say this as clearly as I can. We passed the PRO Act in the House. The president has urged Congress to send it to his desk. And for that we need 50 votes in the Senate. 50 real votes. 50 senators that are not playing procedural games or looking to run out the clock. That’s all we need. It’s written right there in the Constitution plain as day—the Senate runs by a simple majority.  

This is not the time for excuses or equivocation. We need consistent, relentless forward motion. We need action. And we need to do it together. Though on any given day we will have targets—this fight has to be a national fight—in every state. Though we have a calendar, we must commit to fighting until we win. And we must be ready to lift up those who join us and hold those who stand in our way accountable—no matter which political party they come from. 

Already we have made great progress together. The workers’ rights movement and the  progressive movement have fought for the PRO Act, and together we have won victories no one expected. We moved Senator Angus King, with a little help from the bravery of nurses in Maine, and we moved Joe Manchin. And we have made sure that our remaining Senate targets—Mark Kelly and Lisa Murkowski and Krysten Sinema and Mark Warner are hearing from the people who elected them that it is time to pass the PRO Act.

This meeting is a recognition of the breadth and strength of our coalition. The AFL-CIO didn’t have to ask you to engage on the PRO Act. You were already there. Making calls and holding rallies and raising this issue with our elected leaders. We’re grateful. We’re inspired. And we’re asking you to coordinate with us so we can sing even louder and reach even further. We have a big week of action coming up July 17-25. You’ll hear a lot more about that today. Join us. Push us. We have rallies and a toolkit and everything you need to make this week a success. Let’s create a force that sends shockwaves throughout the political world. 

And make no mistake, we’re ready to coordinate with you on the fights of our time to protect the vote, win equality for all and build a more perfect union. Together, the heart and soul of America—the racial justice movement, the gender justice movement, the LGBTQ movement, the immigrant rights movement, faith leaders, young people, retirees, activists, community service partners, union members, everyone—can find strength and a voice through all of us together. 

The stakes are as high as they could be. Our economic future. Our democracy. The PRO Act is the path to a brighter day, a stronger country and a future worthy of our children. So let’s stand together and take that path and seize that day. Thank you.