Speech | Better Pay and Benefits

Trumka to Midwest District Meeting: "We can choose to do better."

Chicago, Illinois

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka delivered the following closing remarks at the Midwest District Meeting: 

Thank you, brothers and sisters.

This has been a very productive meeting. We covered a lot of ground.

We talked about the political landscape, the need to increase our density and the ways we can use the 2018 election to engage with our members.

We talked about the Workers’ Bill of Rights and our Path to Power program which is helping elect more union members to office.

We talked about the threats of Janus and right to work and our capacity to overcome them.

I am confident that we will leave here today with a clear vision and mission for growing our movement and winning worker power.

This has never been more important.

We are the only organized voice for working people in America.

And momentum is on our side!

260,000 new union members joined our ranks in 2017 despite a very difficult organizing environment.

Three quarters of new union members are under the age of 34. The future is bright!

As we gain density, we gain power. As we grow in numbers, we grow in influence. That’s how we start to build the America working people need.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Our economy is nothing more than a set of rules. Those rules are written by the men and women we elect. They decide the winners and the losers. For too long, those rules have been written to enrich corporations at our expense. But here is the good news: we can choose to do better. And that’s exactly what we’re doing.

Brothers and sisters, we’ve been on defense for too long. It is time to go on offense. Let’s drop our shield and pick up two swords.

We want a good job for everyone in America who wants to work. That means the freedom to bargain with your employer for a fair wage and a good life.

We want health care as a fundamental human right.

We should be expanding Medicare to cover everyone 55 and older. We should rein in the power and influence of drug companies. And we should repeal the tax on union health plans once and for all.

We want retirement security. Real retirement security!  Let’s expand Social Security and protect our pensions. Bigger and better, brothers and sisters.

We want the best infrastructure in the world. Roads. Bridges. Rail. High speed internet. Clean drinkable water in every faucet. Let’s invest the trillions of dollars it’ll take to rebuild this country. And let’s do it with union labor and prevailing wages.

We want a fair tax system. Unfortunately, President Trump’s new tax law gives away $1.5 trillion to the country's richest and most powerful corporate interests and gives companies even more incentives to ship American jobs overseas.

And speaking of outsourcing, we want a new direction on trade that upholds labor rights and ends special privileges for corporations.

In recent days, there’s been a lot of discussion around tariffs. Let’s talk about what tariffs ARE and what they AREN’T.

Tariffs ARE a common sense mechanism for trade enforcement. Tariffs ARE the way to hold trade cheaters and bad actors accountable. Tariffs ARE a tool that can level the playing field for American producers and workers.

Tariffs AREN’T a trade war. When global companies exploit workers and deny labor rights, that’s a trade war. When these same corporations overproduce steel to drive U.S. companies out of business, that’s a trade war.

Wall Street has been waging war on our families and communities for decades. Brothers and sisters, we’re not going to take it anymore! That’s why we killed the TPP. That’s why we support  effective trade enforcement. And that’s why we're going to end the era of corporate trade once and for all.

Last but not least, we need to stop terrorizing immigrant workers. These are our brothers and sisters. I am sick and tired of the political games. I am sick and tired of employers cheating, exploiting and misclassifying immigrant workers. What hurts you hurts me. What’s lifts me up lifts you up. Let’s give immigrants a path to citizenship so we can all rise together as one American family.

These issues are the backbone of our political program. We are committed to electing leaders who share our values and support our issues, regardless of what party they belong to. And we’re going to hold every single one of them accountable once elected. This will help us build the political strength and credibility to shape public policy. And we know the best way to advance our agenda is to elect more union members to office.

Working people are ready to turn the tide, go on offense and win.

We’re going to repeal right to work in Missouri. We’re going to defeat Governor Rauner here in Illinois. We’re going to lift up dynamic young leaders like Kooper Caraway, the 27-year old president of the Sioux Falls, South Dakota Central Labor Council. We’re going to build on cutting edge campaigns that raised the minimum wage to $15 an hour in Minneapolis and secured paid sick leave in St. Paul. We’re going to learn from our experience in Iowa and use it to confront Janus with passion and determination. And we’re going to fight each and every day to win a fair shot and a fair shake.

Let’s show working people we can win! Let’s deliver the change America is hungry for. It’ll take some risk. It’ll take solidarity, but we can make it happen by standing together, marching together, fighting together… shoulder to shoulder… arm in arm… as long as it takes… let’s do it! To take America back! For workers! For the country we love! Thank you very much!

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