AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka today delivered the follow remarks at the 2019 IAM Transportation Conference:
Good morning, brothers and sisters! Viva Las Vegas! How are you feeling today? Did you win any money last night? Thank you, Brother Sito (Pantoja), for that very kind introduction. Transportation union members could not have a better advocate. And let’s give it up for my friend and your international president Bob Martinez. At our last convention, the AFL-CIO formed a commission to tackle the future of work and unions. As the manufacturing sector chair, Bob is one of the key voices at the table. He has been thoughtful, visionary and every single union member is better off for his service. It is also an honor to follow my good friend Bob Scardeletti. Bob, thanks for everything you do.
Brothers and sisters, today I want to tell you a story about two flagship American transportation companies, the corporate villain they have in common...and the labor movement that is going to win fairness and justice at both.
Let me start with Amtrak. How many Amtrak workers do we have in the house? I love Amtrak. It’s an experience like no other. From the Acela lounge to the platform to the train car to the station, each moment is a meaningful encounter with the friendliest, best-trained transportation professionals in the world.
And this is despite the fact that Amtrak has been a political punching bag for decades, constantly facing threats of underfunding and privatization. You see, Amtrak has two things the corporate right-wing hates: government funding and unions.
It is one thing for Amtrak to come under assault from the elected leaders entrusted with its oversight. It is entirely another for the company to be undermined from within. And that brings me to today’s villain: Richard Anderson. Good ole, Richie boy.
The guy who walked away with $72 million in stock when he left Delta—after years of trying to stop the workers who make it run from having a voice on the job. The guy who hasn’t found a workplace right he supports or a corporate loophole he opposes. Richard Anderson isn’t the guy you hire to save a company. He’s brought in to strip it for parts. To cut every corner, squeeze every dollar and screw every worker. When J&L Steel was liquidating my father’s pension, they called it “ridding our company of warts.” Richard Anderson follows in their footsteps. He shouldn’t be running a hot dog stand, let alone Amtrak.
In less than two years on the job, Anderson is already wreaking havoc. Station agents have been laid off. A major call center has been closed. Dining car service has been eliminated on some long distance routes. To Richard Anderson, this is just the cost of doing business. To the rural station agent, the Riverside call center worker and the Capitol Limited dining car employee, it’s dignity...it’s security...it’s money in the bank and food on the table. And Amtrak workers are not the only ones suffering. Customers also bear the brunt of these mindless cutbacks.
Sometimes in a small community, like the ones near my hometown in Southwestern Pennsylvania, you have a personal relationship with the station agent. They tell you about their kids and their hopes and their dreams. And you tell them about yours. That’s part of what makes Amtrak special. Sometimes when you need to make a change to your travel plans in a pinch, as I often do, it’s good to talk to a human being. Sometimes Julie (Amtrak’s automated agent) just isn’t good enough. Sometimes when you take a long-distance train trip, paying a hefty fair and sacrificing the speed of air travel, you want to head into the dining car for a freshly prepared meal instead of having to choose between a pack of peanuts or pretzels.
These are the things Richard Anderson simply doesn’t understand or care about. He has as much loyalty to Amtrak as any corporate vulture does to the company they inherit. No, he’s not going to save this great American icon.
But we are.
The Machinist-led fight for fairness and justice at Amtrak...a major part of rising collective action in this country...has personally inspired me and I want you to know that the 12.5 million members and 55 unions of the AFL-CIO stand with you. Richard Anderson may have the deep pockets, but we have the men and women who make Amtrak go...who make America go. So I have a message for Amtrak today: If Richard Anderson is unwilling to use his position to support, strengthen and grow this company...then fire his ass and find someone who will!
Now it’s time to talk about the second transportation company in our story. Because the truth is Richard Anderson honed his skills as a corporate raider and union buster while CEO of Delta. Delta’s motto is “Keep Climbing.” That is, of course, unless you happen to work there. Climbing the corporate ladder has too often been met with outright hostility from Delta management. In fact, part of Anderson’s legacy is keeping the vast majority of Delta non-union.
How bad has it been? Many of you in this room can probably tell the war stories. You have the scars to prove it. So let me just offer a brief reminder of what we’re up against.
Delta has used the same twisted approach in every single union election. Workers are harassed by managers. As soon as organizing posters are put up in employee lounges—permitted by law—Delta tears them down.
At the same time, managers distribute posters encouraging workers to rip up information about the election and voting instructions before even bothering to read about their rights.
In 2015, Delta encouraged voting on company computers, littered with anti-union propaganda, where employees sign on with special passwords, making it possible to monitor their activity. Some workers voted with a manager looking over their shoulder. There were union-busting billboards and animated videos.
Talk about a sham.
And even after all that, you came up only 300 votes short, in a unit of more than 15,000.
The Machinists are back at it as we speak, and I couldn’t be more proud of you. The deck might be stacked against us, but the voices of working people will prevail.
40,000 ramp workers and flight attendants are ready to join our movement. For job security. For economic mobility. For fair treatment and predictable schedules. For the right to bargain collectively and retire with dignity.
Make no mistake, the AFL-CIO and the entire labor movement supports your efforts. Your fight is our fight.
Brothers and sisters, hear me loud and hear me clear: the Machinists are going to win a union at Delta Airlines!
Now some of you might be wondering why I’m so confident. And that brings me to the last character in our story: us. I’ve talked about Richard Anderson and the two companies he infected. But the reason I think we can save good union jobs at Amtrak and win good union jobs at Delta is because something is happening in America.
Fed up with an economic and political system that doesn’t work for them, workers are turning to each other—to us. Every single day, more and more working people are realizing that the single best way they can improve their lives...is to join a union.
Gallup recently put our popularity at 62 percent—a 15-year high. The Wall Street Journal reported that 2018 was the biggest year for collective action in three decades. There were strikes and organizing wins in every sector and every region. There is momentum for good jobs and fair trade and long overdue investment in our infrastructure. We elected more than 960 union members to public office last year. And just last week, union members flipped a state senate district in Pennsylvania and captured two of the three biggest city halls in Wisconsin.
So when someone tells me we can’t win at Amtrak or Delta or anywhere else, I simply refuse to believe them. I think about my old high school football coach...a guy named Bear Stuvek. He taught me about perseverance, dedication and good, old-fashioned hard work. Bear used to put us through a drill called “Bull in the Ring.” I’m certain it would be banned today.
Twelve of my teammates would circle around me. Bear would count off...1, 2, 3, 4...1, 2, 3, 4. He’d call the ones. They’d come and hit me. Then the twos. Then the threes and so on.
Bear would keep calling their numbers. And, I’d keep getting hit...harder and harder. Sometimes I’d be on the ground and wonder whether I should get up. Somehow I always did. Something inside me made me do that.
Before long, when Bear would put me in that ring, I’d start hitting back. I’d hit back with everything I had. I’d hit back until they finally got the message that while you may knock me down, you will NEVER knock me out. You won’t make me quit, give up or give in.
The labor movement...we are that bull in the ring. We’ve been getting hit over...and over...and over again. Every single day. From every goddamn direction.
Wages. Health care. Retirement. Overtime. Workplace safety. They’ve come after ALL OF IT. Now even the National Mediation Board wants to make it easier to decertify a union. Well, guess what? We’re still standing.
Our enemies want a fight? Delta wants a fight? Richard Anderson wants a fight? I say, bring it on!
We’re the true American patriots. We’re fearless. We’re strong. We’re powerful. We’re united. 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 going to win for Delta workers. We’re going to win for Amtrak workers. We’re going to win for every single worker in this beautiful country we are so blessed to call home.
We’ll fight for it. We’ll stand for it. We’ll win it, brothers and sisters, because we’re the ones who wake America up every single day, and put her to bed at night. We ready the planes and fly the skies. We board the trains and ride the rails. We build the roads and we bear the loads. We’ll stand strong. We’ll never run and hide.
We’re the American labor movement, and we will not...WE WILL NOT...be denied!
Thank you, Machinists! God bless you!