AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka delivered the following remarks via video conference to the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO Convention:
Brothers and sisters, it’s great to be with you tonight. Thank you, Brother Rick [Bloomingdale], for inviting me, and for everything you do. Thank you, Brother Frank [Snyder], for your strength and vigor. I am grateful to both of them for their steadfast leadership but also their friendship. And thank you to the entire Pennsylvania AFL-CIO for your courage in the midst of a crisis.
Selfishly, I wish I was back home. I wish I was in Pennsylvania. I wish I was in the same room as you. The coronavirus may keep us apart, but it cannot break our bond or bust our unions! Nothing can, and nothing ever will!
This year’s theme—“Solidarity”—could not be more fitting. These are dark and difficult days. Our hearts are filled with anxiety and uncertainty. At times, our faith is downright tested. But solidarity does not happen only when you can reach out and touch your brother or sister. It happens every time we uphold and act upon our shared values—even when…especially when…times are tough.
Those values will guide us and help us beat this virus. The grocery store worker who stocks the shelves early in the morning and late at night will help us beat this virus. The firefighters and EMTs who answer the call and run toward danger will help us beat this virus. The nurses at Pennsylvania’s hospitals who are treating an onslaught of patients without personal protective equipment—they will help us beat this virus.
And by the way, the labor movement will help get them that equipment, come hell or high water. This state federation is working with businesses, retooling factories and taking care of frontline workers. Look at Majestic Athletic in Easton. They have gone from making athletic jerseys and hats to making personal protective equipment and gowns. That matters. That will save lives. That happened because of you.
Brothers and sisters, our strength, our solidarity, our service, will flatten the curve, deliver America to the other side and rebuild this nation in our image. It won’t be easy. We all know that. Coronavirus is the greatest challenge we have faced since the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations merged nearly 65 years ago. And it’s going to get worse before it gets better.
Right now, all 67 counties in our commonwealth are shut down. Unemployment claims have skyrocketed to record levels. Economists project that the actual unemployment rate right now is about 13 percent. By comparison, it topped out at 10.2 percent during the financial crisis. Joblessness from the coronavirus is going to look more like the Great Depression than the Great Recession. Construction has come to a screeching halt. Workers are hurting. When I say workers, I’m not only talking about union members but all working people, regardless of if they carry a union card or one day hope to. Solidarity extends to anyone. Perhaps that promise has never been more important.
Before this crisis, more than 60 million people were ready to join our ranks if given the chance. Now, that number is growing. Coronavirus has pulled back the curtain on life-changing and in many cases life-saving power of collective action. We are standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Chris Smalls, the worker and organizer who planned strikes at Amazon facilities this week. One day later, Amazon fired him. They said it was for employee insubordination, but we knew it was employer retaliation. As is often the case with Jeff Bezos, the rhetoric does not match the reality. A leaked email from his top lawyer exposed the truth. Smalls was fired for calling for better wages, better protections, better equipment. Conditions in Amazon warehouses were a disgrace before coronavirus, and now we’re seeing once again the dangers of corporations that put bottom lines over workers' lives.
At Amazon’s fulfillment center in Palmer Township, workers have been informed of multiple employee coronavirus cases this week. Instead of closing the facility and cleaning it, they’re encouraging employees to practice social distancing. It’s shameful. Amazon is proving that corporate America’s moral compass is broken. We can do better. We must do better.
Workers remain on the frontlines of this battle. We are still showing up every day and stepping up to do more. We are rising to the moment despite the danger and rising up in solidarity!
But workers can’t do it alone. Rick and Frank can work miracles, but they’re not saints. This is a time for real leadership in Washington, D.C. Donald Trump proved long ago that he is bad for workers. And now he’s proving that he can’t handle a crisis. A crisis calls for selflessness. It calls for poise and judgment and vision. The only thing Donald Trump can see is the man in the mirror. Who else would talk about television ratings as people are dying?
Donald Trump’s reckless and dangerous deregulation is costing lives. He cancelled President Obama’s workplace standard on infectious diseases. He fired the pandemic response team put together by Presidents Bush and Obama. He’s put the Occupational Safety and Health Administration on a starvation diet and there are now fewer workplace inspectors and health specialists than at any point in history. Only one inspector for every 79,000 workers. At the federal level, the agency has enough inspectors to inspect workplaces only once every 165 years. And he gives himself a 10 out of 10. As our members are dying. I give President Trump a one. As in one term!
But we have seen what real leadership looks from some members of Congress, including a 35-year old from the suburbs of Pittsburgh! The political pundits said we couldn’t flip that district. Working people pounded the pavement, knocked on doors and made phone calls. Now Conor Lamb is working for us! And he’s doing a damn good job fighting for the dignity and safety of workers. He’s been picking up PPE, loading it in his truck and delivering it to frontline workers in Pennsylvania. That’s what character looks like. Conor Lamb is looking out for people’s lives instead of looking for a photo-op. Harrisburg and Washington need leaders who have compassion, a conscience and the courage of their convictions. People who don’t pander to us but prove themselves to us.
It’s been easy to forget the 2020 election is only a few months away. But this crisis has made clear just how important it is to get that decision right.
Brothers and sisters, we are going to win here in Pennsylvania. Conor Lamb was just the beginning. This isn’t a red state or a blue state. It’s a union state! So we’re going to elect our members and allies from the school board to the statehouse to the White House.
I have to be honest: I wish Pat Toomey was up this year. After a quarter century of suffering under NAFTA, we poured our blood, sweat and tears into the USMCA negotiations. Last June, we kicked off our trade tour in Pittsburgh and promised to do everything we could to win a better deal. And in December, we won that deal—despite Donald Trump, not because of him. His original proposal was completely unenforceable and would have left us holding the bag for another 25 years. But working with champions like Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Sherrod Brown, we put NAFTA in the dustbin of history. When the bill came up for a vote, Pat Toomey thought it was too worker-friendly and voted against us. Here is a simple rule to live by: If Pat says it’s wrong, it must be right. Pat voted against us. In 2022, we’re going to vote against him.
Pat Toomey’s biggest insult to Pennsylvania’s working families is his continued support for Mitch McConnell. The other week, Congress passed the $2 trillion coronavirus relief package. The labor movement boosted unemployment insurance, knowing more and more people will need it in the coming weeks and months. We secured more money for states and cities, hospitals and schools, Amtrak and local transit systems. And for industries receiving major bailouts, like the airlines, we made clear: this money isn’t a golden parachute. It isn’t for stock buy-backs. It’s not for another executive’s vacation house. It is to keep employees on the payroll. But you should have seen the bill Mitch McConnell originally put forward. It was no better than Donald Trump’s original NAFTA rewrite. Nothing more than a corporate power grab.
Mitch McConnell and Mitch McConnell alone blocked pension relief. He wants to let our retirement plans go under. Never forget that! He wouldn’t negotiate on paid sick leave. He blocked real relief to the Postal Service. This is what we’re up against. This is why elections matter. Just imagine the progress we can make when we have a White House and a Senate that actually believes in the labor movement.
We need to vote for our values. We need to elect candidates who want to build unions, not bust them. And we know where to find them. Our path to power program is working. Pennsylvania is proof. The commonwealth has 27,000 elected officials—the second-most in the nation. Well, 4,000 of those elected officials are card-carrying union members. The labor movement is building a farm team for the future. It’s a future where our rights are protected. Our values help lift everyone up. Our brothers and sisters run for office and run our towns, our commonwealth and our country!
Having faith in the future can be tough right now. I get that. Working people have been pushed aside, knocked down and rolled over for 40 years, but we always get back up and lend a hand to the person next to us. No recession or right to work law has defeated us. The rising tide of collective action gives me hope. The droves of young people organizing and unionizing give me hope. Pennsylvania gives me hope.
This state federation is working with businesses, retooling factories and taking care of frontline workers. Look at Majestic Athletic in Easton. They have gone from making athletic jerseys and hats to making personal protective equipment and gowns. That matters. That will save lives. That happened because of you. Donald Trump is not giving Pennsylvania the PPE that frontline workers need and deserve. He’s saying it’s a federal stockpile, not a state stockpile. Mr. President, look at this commonwealth. Look at this state federation. Look to us for guidance. Unions are donating their extra PPE to the unions that need it more. To people who are on the frontlines of this pandemic, regardless of affiliation. That is solidarity. You realize that we are our brother’s and sister’s keepers.
This incredible generosity reminds me of my childhood in Nemacolin. My mother made pork chops for dinner. We were poor. My dad worked in the mines. So pork chops…that was a big deal. Well, I brought a buddy home. My mother only had four pork chops. One for herself. One for my father. One for my sister. One for me. My mother gave her dinner to my friend. I’ll never forget that. Why? Families make shared sacrifices. Not just for members of our family but for everyone in the community. We are a family. In this time of crisis and confusion, we will care for the sick and restock food. We will power the plant and continue to teach children. We will lift the loads and lift everyone up with us. We never ignore the call, and we’ll do whatever it takes for the commonwealth and country that workers built. And that in the face of this crisis, that they will rebuild.
This is a moment for solidarity.
This is the moment we were made for.
May God give you health and strength.
And may God bless the American labor movement.