Speech | Infrastructure · Better Pay and Benefits

Trumka to Operating Engineers Convention: Building Is What the Labor Movement Does Best

Hollywood, Florida

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka delivered the following remarks at the 39th Convention of the International Union of Operating Engineers: 

Thank you, Brother Jim [Callahan], for that very kind introduction. Good afternoon, brothers and sisters. It is so good to be with you today. We love the Operating Engineers! Every skyline is a reminder of your incredible professionalism.

And how about that video? What an inspiring tribute to the union members who have always been on the frontlines responding to natural disasters. Hurricanes. Fires. Floods. The list goes on.

I am so proud of the 36 IUOE members who spent two weeks in Puerto Rico helping their fellow citizens. I only wish our government would show that same commitment and dedication.

From Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria to the Northern California wildfires, union members answered the call.

And we are ready to help America recover and rebuild.

After all, building is what the labor movement does best.

At the AFL-CIO convention in St. Louis this past fall, President Callahan led our resolution on infrastructure. He talked about the once in a lifetime opportunity we have in front of us. To build America. To grow the labor movement. To create good, high-paying, family-sustaining jobs.

For years, we’ve heard a lot of talk about infrastructure. Democrats and Republicans all say they support it. Business and labor agrees.

The American Society of Civil Engineers tells us that to bring our existing infrastructure up to acceptable standards, we need to invest $4.6 trillion over the next 10 years. Yet our current funding is more than $2 trillion short of that figure.

To be globally competitive, we also must invest upwards of $2 trillion in the transportation, energy and communications technologies of the 21st century.

Brothers and sisters, with the need so great and the support so broad, I have to ask: where the hell is the bill?

On Monday, we’ll kick off the 6th annual National Infrastructure Week. Yet not once in those six years has Congress passed a major infrastructure package. The federal gas tax hasn’t been increased since 1993. Countries like China and Germany are running circles around us on infrastructure.

Unfortunately, President Trump’s plan is just another Wall Street giveaway. It includes only a fraction of the public money needed to rebuild our infrastructure. It pits rural and urban communities against each other. And it forces privatization down our throats. All this from someone who claims to be “the builder president.”

If the president wants to see what a builder looks like, he should take a look at this room.

He should visit your incredible, state of the art, $150 million, 229-acre training facility.

You see, the Operating Engineers are ready to build.

The labor movement is ready to build.

America’s businesses are ready to build.

We want the best infrastructure in the world. Roads. Bridges. Rail. High speed internet. Water that doesn’t poison our citizens.

It is time for our politicians to put up or shut up.

Stop talking. Start digging.

Let’s rebuild this country with union labor and Davis-Bacon.

And let’s do it today!

Infrastructure is one important area where the labor movement is leading with issues.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the economy is not like the weather.

It doesn't just happen to us. The economy is nothing but a set of rules.

Those rules are written by the men and women we elect.

They decide the winners and the losers, and for nearly four decades, working people have gotten the short end of the stick.

So how do we fix this rigged economy?

The answer is simple: we rewrite the rules.

And that means electing the right rulemakers.

There is no denying it’s been an uphill battle.

Brothers and sisters, we have many champions in the Democratic Party. And we have a few good friends in the Republican Party. Both have addressed your convention this week.

But the truth is this.

The number of Republicans who support us has gone down.

And the number of Democrats who disappoint us has gone up.

That's why the labor movement must be an independent political voice.

Hope will be found within our movement, not inside the major political parties.

So I have a clear message today.

To those who stand with us and fight for us: thank you. We’ve got your back.

To those who are using their office to hurt us: we are coming for you.

And to those who have forgotten that labor helped get them elected in the first place: the hell with you.

Your party label can’t protect you anymore. We’re standing with those who stand with us!

Guess what? It’s working.

In just the past few months, working family candidates have outperformed expectations and won races in Pennsylvania, Iowa, Rhode Island, Kentucky, Washington, New Jersey, Maine, Virginia and Alabama.

The path to power runs through the American labor movement. That’s why our political independence is so important. That’s why we’re going to unleash the most dynamic member to member program in our history. And we need your help.

We’ve got to keep organizing, keep mobilizing, keep educating, keep registering, keep marching, keep fighting and keep winning, because we want a new day and a new economy where working people can get ahead! Let’s do it!

Our unionism…the passionate stand we take for ourselves, our communities and each other…has never been more important.

Something is happening in America.

A growing number of working people are recognizing that the best way to raise our own standing is by standing with the person next to us. Collective action is on the rise.

262,000 new union members joined the labor movement in 2017. 3 out of 4 of those were under the age of 35.

More than 14,000 workers have formed and joined unions in just the past few weeks. Flight attendants. Graduate assistants. Nurses. Journalists. Utility workers.

Teachers are standing up, speaking out and walking out.

In March, slot techs at Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut voted to join IUOE Local 30. Welcome brothers and sisters!

And speaking of Foxwoods, I want to thank you for all of your hard work to defeat the deceptively named Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act.

I support tribal sovereignty. We all do.

Here’s what I don’t support: corporations using tribal sovereignty as a cover to hurt the very people it's meant to protect.

By defeating that bad bill, we preserved National Labor Relations Act protections for more than 600,000 workers on native lands.

We’re proud of this victory. We will always stand up to any attack on our rights. Yet the truth is we’ve been on defense for too long. Corporate attacks on tribal labor rights. Right to work. Janus. You name it. It is time to go on offense. Let’s drop our shield and pick up two swords.

America is ready. The popularity of unions has been rising for years. It’s well over 60%, the highest in nearly two decades, and it’s even higher among young workers. 75% of workers under 30 have a favorable view of unions, including 55% of young Republicans.

A future of shared prosperity, of thriving unions and strong communities is ours to win.

We demand universal health care. We demand real retirement security. We demand trade deals that raise wages and create jobs. We demand a path to citizenship for hard-working immigrants. We demand equal pay for women and an end to sexual harassment. We demand dignity, rights, respect and the freedom to form a union for every single worker.

None of this will be easy.

The forces of corporate greed are more powerful, organized and focused than anytime I can remember.

Yet none of us should doubt…not for a second…about how this all ends.

Every day, our union movement is growing stronger, because we’re fighting for something real. We’re fighting to lift up lives. We’re fighting for the transformation that comes with a collectively bargained contract. We’re fighting for solidarity. I know it. You know it. It’s like love. It can’t be fully measured. It has to be felt, and I want every worker in America to feel it, to feel the pride and power that comes with a union.

We’re ready to make progress, brothers and sisters. Each election, each time someone signs a membership card, each legislative battle…all of it showcases our growing clout in politics and our economy. Yet I believe you’ll soon see the impact of our momentum on an even broader level.

When more union members fill the halls of power…when wages rise and inequality shrinks…when we have more pro-labor Republicans and fewer corporate-beholden Democrats…when a growing number of young people see democracy as a way to change the rules of this economy…when we stop defining victory as not losing…and most of all…when more workers realize our own value…that’s when you’ll know unions are on the rise and the country is on the mend.

That moment is here. I can feel it. I feel it in every union hall I visit and every picket line I stand on. I feel it in the wave of union organizing from coast to coast. And I feel it here today. The future is now.

Never forget...NEVER FORGET...we’re the ones who wake America every single morning. We tuck her into bed at night. We hoist the steel and build the roads. We mine the coal and lift the loads. We survey the sites and pour the molds. We connect our cities and the world. We teach, heal and make. We package, print and bake. We make America strong.

We don’t duck and run. We don’t run and hide. We are the American labor movement, and we will not be denied! Thank you. God bless you. God bless the work you do!

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