Speech | Better Pay and Benefits

Trumka to Pennsylvania AFL-CIO: We Hold the Keys to Victory

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Brothers and sisters, it’s great to be home in Pennsylvania!

Thank you, Brother Rick [Bloomingdale], for inviting me, and for your powerful and inspired leadership. Thank you, Brother Frank [Snyder], for your toughness and energy and all you do. Thank you to the entire Pennsylvania AFL-CIO for your fighting spirit and for your victories!

If you want to know the power of unions here in Pennsylvania, I have two words for you: Conor Lamb. That’s right, brothers and sisters. Working people and the power of a union-run, member-to-member campaign are what carried the 18th Congressional District.

Conor Lamb shared our agenda and spoke out for our members. He talked about the importance of the labor movement everywhere he went.

He didn’t hijack our message to advance his own interests or to help corporate donors. He embraced our fight to secure economic justice and lifelong dignity for all working people. He didn’t just ask for our support. He earned it.

Working people noticed, and we showed up in droves to mobilize our union brothers and sisters.

We knocked on doors, made calls and sat down with members at their worksites. We talked to teachers and municipal employees in suburban Allegheny County, steelworkers in the small towns of Washington County and coal miners in the rural stretches of Greene County. From the headquarters of the state federation to the packed field offices of our CLCs, working people put our blood and sweat into this campaign.

In a district where 20% of folks heading to the polls were union voters, that effort made the difference. We knocked on the doors of more than 34,000 union households and made more than 48,000 calls. Person by person, we mobilized a grassroots movement.

That’s how Conor Lamb won . It’s a loud wake-up call for anyone hoping to do the same in 2018—and yes, 2020. Earning the support of working people is a high bar. It’s more than a handshake or a photo-op. And it extends well beyond the campaign trail.

Union members used our passion and resources to help elect Conor Lamb. Now we are going to use that same energy to hold him accountable in office. Winning elections is only the first step. Winning pro-worker policies is the ultimate goal.

Working people proved that we will move heaven and earth to help a genuine ally. But we won’t waste a dime or a door knock on fair weather friends. If you want working people to rally around you, then you sure as hell better rally around us.

Democrats, don’t go crawling to Wall Street. They don’t hold the keys to victory—we do!

Come to us. Talk with us. Rise with us. March with us. Stand with us. Fight with us, and win with us!

We extend the same invitation to Republicans. We don’t work for any political party. We want fair economic rules so working people can work hard and get ahead, and we will gladly go to bat for any Republican who goes to bat for us.

That’s our political independence on parade, because, when it’s all said and done, our electoral and legislative work comes back to one simple thing, just like our workplace organizing and contract fights. We want working family wins. Period.

Brothers and sisters, I don’t think I need to remind you that America’s labor movement sprang up out of the coal mines, the steel mills and the rail yards of Pennsylvania generations ago. Our ancestors bled and died for our freedom to stand together in strong unions, and to negotiate for a better life. We will honor them by walking that same path.

Listen close: America’s labor movement is on the rise once again. We won’t be held down, pushed back or shoved aside. Conor Lamb was just the tip of the iceberg. Our popularity is the highest it’s been in nearly two decades. We organized 262,000 new union members last year. Teachers are walking out. Working people are speaking out. Momentum is on our side. Let’s make 2018 the year of the worker. COME ON! LET’S DO IT! This is our time. This is our day. This is our moment. Union proud. Union strong. Unions forever!

Our work has never been more important. We are the last, the only and the best organized voice for working people in America.

And it is time for us to go on offense.

Working people need progress. 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.

And it means technology must be a tool for broadly shared prosperity, not more corporate greed.

I know this convention is focusing on the future of work. We’re not shying away from the challenge of automation. Think of the wheel. The loom. The internal engine. The assembly line. The computer. The internet. We embrace change. But we are also using our voice to make sure workers don’t get left behind.

The truth is, brothers and sisters, working people have been innovators since the very beginning. Our mandate is not to slow progress, but to make it work for us. We can demand a world where the gains from technology translate into better pay and better working conditions for everyone and where working hard doesn't mean exhausting yourself to the edge of illness or even death.

And speaking of healthier lives, we're going to continue the fight for universal health care. 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 also 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. I’m not talking about President Trump’s bogus new tax law that provides corporations even more incentives to ship American jobs overseas… that gives the richest 1 percent a $33,000 tax cut while leaving just $40 for those with the least. Imagine that: billionaires get a new car, while the working poor gets a tank of gas.

Is that fair? No! We are demanding a tax structure where Wall Street and the wealthy few actually start paying their fair share.

We want a new direction on trade. Over the past several weeks, there’s been a lot of discussion around tariffs. I want to be clear about what tariffs ARE and what they AREN’T.

Tariffs ARE a common sense tool to enforce trade rules. Tariffs ARE a standard way to hold trade cheaters accountable. Tariffs can level the playing field for America’s 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 and dump it onto the world market to kill American jobs, 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’re working nonstop to fix NAFTA. 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 are standing up for immigrant workers. I was disgusted by President Trump’s Easter Sunday tweet saying he would no longer support a path forward for Dreamers. In the words of Pope Francis: “Having doubts and fears is not a sin. The sin is to allow these fears to determine our responses, to limit our choices, to compromise respect and generosity, to feed hostility and rejection.” For too long, this president and his allies have compromised respect and fed hostility for political gain. It has to stop.

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.

Let’s show working people we can win, brothers and sisters! 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. To take America back! For workers! For the country we love! For each other!

Four years ago, here in Pittsburgh, I sat with a fresh gubernatorial candidate and a bunch of workers who wanted unions. Today, those workers have contracts on the job, and that candidate is Governor Tom Wolf. That is no coincidence. Workers get ahead when our friends hold office. Tom has delivered for working families again and again.

And look at Sen. Bob Casey. He has been a powerful voice for working people in the United States Senate. His door is always open, but that’s not all. He seeks our advice constantly. Just the other day, he came to the offices of the AFL-CIO in Washington to make sure he got the views of working people on the key issues that affect us most. That’s friendship. That’s respect. That’s political power.

Every day, our union movement is growing more politically independent. It’s not about party. It’s about workers, and we’ve got pro-worker, pro-union Republicans here in Pennsylvania. We are proud to have their support.

When I talk about workers, I’m talking about people like my dad, and my uncles and your members throughout this great state. I’m talking about folks like UMWA member Dwayne Thomas from Local 1248. Brother Dwayne led by example. He knocked doors. He worked the phone banks, and he helped bring home that crucial win for Conor Lamb. Thank you, Brother Dwayne! And thank you to every local union, every affiliate, every member, every retiree and every family member member and friend who came together under the banner of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO to show America that the path to power runs through our labor movement.

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 solidarity.

We’re ready to make progress, brothers and sisters. Each election, each organizing drive, each legislative battle… will showcase our growing clout. Yet I believe you’ll 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 the value of democracy and that we can and will 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 and the power of solidarity…that’s when you’ll know unions are on the rise.

That moment is close. I can feel it coming. I feel it in every union hall I visit and every picket line I stand on. I feel it when I talk to brave immigrants ready to come out of the shadows and working women who are saying enough is enough. I feel it in the teachers from West Virginia and Kentucky to Oklahoma and Arizona, who are fighting to overturn a rigged system that has left them behind for decades. And I feel it here today.

Never forget that we’re the ones who wake America every single morning. We tuck her into bed at night. We build the cars, we fly the planes and make the roads. We lift the loads and ship the goods. We 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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