Speech | Corporate Greed · Better Pay and Benefits · Labor Law · Right to Work

Trumka to Massachusetts AFL-CIO Convention: Workers Are Rising

Springfield, MA

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

Good morning, brothers and sisters. It’s great to be with you today. Brother Steve (Tolman), thank you for that introduction. Steve is...how do I say this...a personality. A combination of passion and humor and guts. He’s the Julian Edelman of the labor movement. From Amtrak to the Massachusetts legislature, from the Machinists to the AFL-CIO, Steve has dedicated his life to working people. Please join me in congratulating him and Brother Lou (Mandarini) on another four-year term. 

It’s an exciting time to be in the labor movement. Workers are rising. We are refusing to settle for less. And we are using every tool at our disposal to win what is fair. Earlier this year, when Stop & Shop proposed a contract that would’ve forced 30,000 UFCW members across New England to endure less health care, less retirement and less dignity, workers stood up and said NO! The strike lasted 11 days. The company lost millions. Customers refused to cross the picket line. And guess what? Workers won! The UFCW won! The labor movement won! We won! 

The fight continues. As you probably know, 50,000 GM workers, proud members of the UAW, are currently out on strike. They are standing on the shoulders of those at Stop & Shop and Marriott and all the places workers took a risk and drew a line in the sand.

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.

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 are the AFL-CIO. 55 unions proud! 12.5 million members strong! One union family! 

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

Brothers and sisters, when I think about GM’s greed...I get angry. But then I talk to UAW members 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. And because of your hard work, we secured a groundbreaking win for public service workers in Massachusetts, overriding Governor Baker’s veto by a combined vote of 193-2! 

This legislative victory is the strongest response yet to Janus, the Supreme Court case that was supposed to knock us out but instead gave us new life, and it was carried by IUE-CWA member Pete Capano and other union legislators we elected to serve on Beacon Hill. From now on, if you get the benefits of union representation, you will be required to cover some of the costs. I don’t think that’s too much to ask!

Our resounding override—along with progress on a $15 minimum wage, paid family leave and the Fund Our Future-led effort to increase investment in education—reminds us that the best way to win pro-worker laws is by electing more of our own, as Mayor Marty Walsh has shown us in Boston time and time again.  At the 2017 AFL-CIO Convention, we passed a resolution committing the labor movement to electing more union members to public office.

In the nearly two years since, that’s exactly what we’ve done.

In 2018 alone, you elected five union members to the Massachusetts House, one to the Massachusetts Senate and sent Ironworker Stephen Lynch back to Washington to fight for us in Congress.

Lynch, along with his colleagues in the Massachusetts Congressional delegation, is leading the fight 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 if not for the untimely death of your legendary senator Ted Kennedy, it probably would have become law. 

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 yesterday 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. Our union member candidates program. 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.

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, we have to take this country back from Donald Trump and his enablers.

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. The new NAFTA is as toothless on enforcement as the original. We haven’t spent a penny on infrastructure. Workplace safety regulations have been gutted. The administration wants to replace union-registered apprenticeships with industry-set training standards. And just this week, the Trump Administration blocked nearly 3 million workers from receiving overtime pay while Antonin Scalia’s son, a management side lawyer with a history of union-busting, came one step closer to becoming the Secretary of Labor.

Brothers and sisters, enough is enough. We’re demanding better. We deserve better. And in 2020, we’re going to win better.

But I also have a warning for the Democratic Party.

We are not your ATM. You must work for us, not the other way around.

We’re setting the bar high—higher than it’s ever been.

Put plainly, my message today is this: If you want our endorsement...if you want our vote...if you want our support...then show us that you’re unambiguously pro-worker and pro-union. Tell us about your plan to make it easier to form unions and harder to bust them. Show us that workers are more than a section on your website or a line in your biography. Make growing today’s labor movement a top priority.

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.

Working people built this country from the ground up. We keep her running every day. Yet far too often, we’ve been disrespected, disregarded and abandoned. So, we are demanding from a president the same thing we demand of ourselves: Hard work. Integrity. Honor. Guts. Grit. And, sacrifice. It doesn’t matter if there’s a D, R or I next to your name. If you refuse to truly make the cause of workers your own, then we cannot endorse you.

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!

This is our time! This is our moment!

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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