Speech | Trade · Infrastructure · Better Pay and Benefits

Trumka in Michigan: 2020 Must Be About Workers

Detroit, Michigan

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka today delivered the following remarks to the Michigan AFL-CIO Convention:

Thank you, Brother Ron (Bieber), for that kind introduction. You want to talk about an iconic labor leader? You’ve got one of the best here. For three generations, the Bieber family has given everything they’ve got to unionism. We’re all better off for it, and I’m proud to call you my brother and my friend.

You’ve also got two of the strongest and brightest leaders in the country in Detroit Metro CLC President Daryl Newman and IBEW Local 58 Business Manager Brian Richard. Thank you, both, for your leadership and vision.

Brothers and sisters, I’ve been thinking a lot about your theme: “Icons of Labor.” You’ve got a great list. It’s hard to pick just one.

There’s A. Philip Randolph, the first African American Vice President of the AFL-CIO, who introduced trade unionism to millions of African Americans. And, along with his deputy Bayard Rustin, he became a trusted confidant of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and helped organize the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

Then, there’s Walter Reuther, one of the founders of the AFL-CIO, and president of the United Auto Workers. Detroit knows a thing or two about him. But, did you know that Reuther stood next to Dr. King for his “I Have a Dream” speech? He was a fierce advocate for civil rights, and his ideas for national health insurance, economic equality and job security were ahead of his time.

And then, there’s John L. Lewis. As a third generation mineworker, I’ve always held a deep-seated respect for him. He rose up the ranks during some of the darkest times in our nation’s history, and at every turn, he never lost focus of who he was fighting for—his fellow mineworkers.

Lewis also formed the organizing committees that built many of America’s greatest unions, and pushed our institutions to build a genuine movement of working people.

Brothers and sisters, we are who we are...we lead the lives we lead...and we live in a far better country...because of these leaders. The best way to honor them is to continue to build the movement and nation they could only dream of.

I recently got my 50-year pin from the UMWA. There have been a lot of ups and downs in the last half century. But, I’ve never experienced anything quite like the uprising happening across America right now. Working people aren’t sitting quietly...as the wealthy continue to rig the rules of the economy that we built with our hands. We’re standing up and speaking out to demand what we’ve rightfully earned!

After decades of stagnant pay and education cuts, teachers in red AND blue states are walking out...and winning. 30,000 grocery store workers and UFCW members across New England went on strike to save their health care and retirement. Guess what? They did it! UNITE HERE members in Detroit and other major cities marched on picket lines to secure a fair deal from  Marriott, the biggest hotel chain in the world. Each of their biggest demands were met, setting a new industry standard in the process.

Something is happening in America. Workers are putting aspiration above fear.

The corporate power structure in this nation had us on the ropes. They thought the fight would be called...or workers would throw in the towel.

They thought we would continue to work longer and harder for less. They thought they could take our health care and pensions and peace of mind, no questions asked. They thought they could treat us like numbers on a balance sheet...costs to cut, rather than the human capital that powers our nation and the world.  

They thought we’d sit back while the politicians they bought passed trade deals and tax laws that made us poorer and weaker.

They thought we’d give up...give in...and tap out.

Brothers and sisters, they underestimated us.

We’re off the ropes, and we’re fighting back.

I don’t know about you, but I have a fire in my belly. I feel it here in Michigan. Working people are writing a comeback story, and each of you are the heroes.

Steelworkers. Autoworkers. Mineworkers. Teachers. Public sector. Private sector. Urban. Rural. Black. White. Immigrant. Native born.

Dearborn to Detroit. Flint to Ann Arbor. Lansing to Washington D.C.

We’re kicking ass. We’re taking names. And, we’re going to take this country back for working people!

One way we can recapture America is by rebuilding it.

It’s Infrastructure Week….Again.

Another year has passed without the federal infrastructure bill our country so desperately needs.

Another year of inaction.

Another year of talk…followed by more talk.

I won’t sugarcoat it: That ride from the airport was bumpy. And I grew up in a town with dirt roads, so I know about potholes.

Robust and sustainable investment in America’s infrastructure is one of the core functions of a successful civilization, and I use “civilization” for a reason:

We need healthy and safe water systems...not just in Flint and other Michigan communities, but all across America...that meet the standards of a civilized nation.

We need functioning transportation systems...bridges, highways, railways and ports...that meet the standards of a civilized nation.

We need a safe and effective energy and utility infrastructure...including natural gas and oil pipelines...that don’t leak or break down and put harmful chemicals in our air or water. And we need to make sure that investments in new technology create good jobs and shared prosperity.

Brothers and sisters, this isn’t a bonus. This is the basics!

Your governor, Gretchen Whitmer, gets it. She’s put forward a transformative, inclusive infrastructure package that will make Michigan a national leader again. And the labor movement is going to help her pass that bill into law!

But, it’s not just Michigan. The average American spends nearly four full days sitting in traffic. Four days, brothers and sisters. I can think of a million things I’d rather do than sit in traffic. And, poor infrastructure costs the average worker more than $3,000 every year.

Americans are losing time and money, and our nation is losing its competitive edge. All because Washington refuses to work together and deliver a strong, national infrastructure package for the American people.

Brothers and sisters, are we gonna let them hold us back any longer?

Hell no!

The White House and Congress recently agreed on the need for a $2 trillion infrastructure package.

That’s a good start.

But we’ve heard these promises before. It is time for ACTION!

The federal investment we need to fix America’s infrastructure will create millions of good-paying, family-sustaining, UNION jobs across the country.

That’s why the labor movement is ready to help turn proposals into shovel-ready projects with the most highly-skilled and well-trained workforce in the world. That’s why national infrastructure funding must uphold high labor standards, good wages and other protections.

Our icons didn’t believe in a broken America falling behind other civilized, innovative nations. They believed in a strong America...connected from sea to shining sea...supporting American jobs...American resources...and American steel!

So our message to Washington is this: Build today. Build tomorrow. Build America. Build union. Enough talk. Build! Build! Build!

Building our infrastructure is incredibly important. But it will not be enough if we don’t rebuild the way we do trade in this country.

You know that better than anyone here in Michigan. Our trade deals have been nothing more than corporate handouts. And no deal has done more damage to working people than NAFTA.

It’s hard to believe, but 2019 marks 25 years since NAFTA went into force. For working people, NAFTA has been nothing short of catastrophic. It put big business in charge of economic strategy. And look what happened: Millions of American jobs were lost to Mexico and other low-wage countries.

GM is now the top carmaker in Mexico. And two-and-a-half decades into NAFTA, plants are still closing here in the Midwest.

So when President Trump opened the door to replacing NAFTA, I jumped at the opportunity. I wanted a seat at the table. I carried your hopes and dreams into every single meeting. You may have heard that a deal is now on the table. Let me be perfectly clear: It is not good enough.

For one, it does nothing to address outsourcing. It’s a repeat of the old NAFTA and fails to stop the hemorrhaging of good-paying American jobs to Mexico.

The new NAFTA also has no effective way to enforce its rules. It literally allows a party accused of violations to stop a settlement panel. It’d be like giving an accused thief the right to shut down their own trial.

This is crazy. If a trade deal can’t be enforced, then it’s nothing more than a set of suggestions.

The current proposal also includes a new round of giveaways to multinational corporations, like making it easier for Big Pharma to lock in high drug prices.

This is not the deal President Trump promised. And it is not a deal we can support.

Bring us an agreement that creates jobs and raises wages here in Michigan…bring us an agreement that actually works for working people...and we’ll help pass it.

But, let me be absolutely clear: If the administration insists on a vote before these issues are fixed, we will bury this deal right next to the TPP.

Working people are united. So how can we move the ball forward on infrastructure and trade and every other important issue?

One major answer is politics.

Walter Reuther famously said, “There’s a direct relationship between the ballot box and the bread box, and what the union fights for and wins at the bargaining table can be taken away in the legislative halls.”

Rick Snyder spent 8 years chipping away at our rights here in Michigan. There were some really tough moments in this state. But you got up off the ground and fought back. And you helped make 2018 the year of the worker.

You elected 80 union brothers and sisters to public office, including Governor Whitmer.

And, I know Brother Ron is continuing this good work now and is working to recruit even more unionists to run for office at every level of government.

But brothers and sisters, you didn’t stop there.

Oh no. You kept the progress going by re-electing a champion, Senator Debbie Stabenow.

You passed ballot measures to improve voting rights.

And you sent a clear message to the entire nation—the path to power in 2020 is through the labor movement.

There are many candidates running for president. Some we know well. Others are new faces. Many are friends. 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 an agenda that is unambiguously pro-worker and pro-union. Democrats need to stop trying to split the difference between Main Street and Wall Street.

It means having a plan to make it easier to form unions and harder to bust them. 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 championing a Workers’ Bill of Rights and rallying support for the PRO Act, the most sweeping labor law reform bill in a generation. It means committing to filling the NLRB, the Labor Department and every government agency with champions of collective bargaining.

The first test of whether or not you’ll be a pro-union president is how you treat the people who work on your campaign.

To put it simply, you can’t be pro-union if you’re an anti-worker boss. So, here’s my message to every candidate for president: Show us how committed you are to unionism and allow your campaign workers to organize. Be more than just a neutral party. Be an active partner.

Many of the candidates I’ve spoken with have already made this commitment, and so far, two candidates’ campaign workers have secured union cards. I hope others will follow suit.

Another icon, 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. No more. The stakes are too high, and working people are drawing a line in the sand this time. 2020 must be different.

We’re refusing to settle for less in this election. Not when...in some parts of the country...it’s still harder to form a union than climb a mountain. Not when a record 7 million Americans are more than three months behind on their car payments. Not when 62 percent of Americans haven’t seen a raise in more than a year.

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.

With the names of the leaders who came before us etched in our minds, hearts and souls, we’ll march for it. We’ll organize for it. We’ll picket 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.

We’re going to fight for a real investment in our infrastructure to finally fix the damn roads!

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 keep America great. We teach, heal and make. We package, print and bake. We build the roads, fight the fires and lift the loads. We stand tall. We don’t run and hide. We wake our country up every single day. 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, Michigan! God bless you!

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