Speech | Better Pay and Benefits · Trade · Infrastructure · Labor Law

Trumka Pledges Solidarity at Steelworkers Convention

Las Vegas, Nev.

Good afternoon. Thank you, Brother Fred [Redmond] for your kind words of introduction. I’m honored to be here.

During last year’s election, I had the pleasure of campaigning with Steelworkers and other union folks all over the country. We had candid conversations about the importance of taking a stand for good jobs, and, I’ll be honest, I spoke to some union members who supported Hillary Clinton and others who planned to vote for Donald Trump. Yet whoever we voted for, every single person I spoke to wanted the same thing.  A fairer economy. New rules. A better life.

If the election had been a referendum on a stronger union movement, a new direction on trade, good jobs and a brighter future for ourselves and our families, we would have won in a landslide.

But it wasn’t. The election was between two human beings, imperfect as all of us are, and we owe it to our members and to America to do everything we can to win progress from this new administration, just as we did with the last. 

From my very first meeting with President Trump, I let him know that we will judge his White House on actions. We’re watching. We’re keeping score. If the president does something good for all working people, something consistent with our values, we’ll support it and work hard for it. If he does something that threatens who we are and what we stand for, we are going to fight it as a unified labor movement.

We did the same thing with President Obama, and if any of your members have doubts about that, just remind them of our years-long campaign against the Trans-Pacific Partnership. President Obama was a great president, but he was wrong on trade, and we stood against him and prevailed. President Trump talked a good game on trade and even signed the TPP’s death certificate on his first day in office. But we killed that bad trade deal once and for all, and we’ll do the same to any new deal if it fails our standards.

NAFTA is the real test. President Trump made this a major focus of his campaign. Time and time again, he called it the worst trade deal in history, and nothing resonated with union members more. Yet it now seems the Trump Administration could leave NAFTA’s most oppressive pieces in place.

Our unions plan to play a large role in the renegotiation of NAFTA, and the Steelworkers will be at the front of the fight. Nobody knows trade like the USW. Working together, we will demand a better deal and make certain this process is not used to further tilt the rules in favor of big corporations. Our message to President Trump is this: Keep your promise. Rewrite NAFTA so it works for workers. Bring our jobs back.

These corporate-written deals have torn apart our country for too long. Working people want a new direction. We saw it with the TPP. America is ready for something better. We’re ending the era of bad trade, and we’re doing it now!

One thing I love about the United Steelworkers is how you put union education front and center. You know it’s critical, now more than ever, to build from the inside out. Working people need to understand how our economy isn’t like the weather. It’s not just something that happens to us. We can make a difference with activism.

Activism is built on issues. That’s why we’re putting our issues first. We’ve been asserting our political independence, and we’re not going to stop. It’s not enough for us to wish for a better life. We’ve got to win it.

With our issues in the lead, partisan politics has to take a back seat. We won’t be an ATM for any political party. When our fidelity is to working people and fair economic rules, politicians will have to come to us. That’s how we’ll stop choosing on Election Day between the lesser of two evils and start choosing between the better of two goods.

So let’s talk issues.

We are just beyond the 80-day mark of this administration, and two very different factions have emerged. There is a Wall Street wing that seeks to undermine Donald Trump’s promises to workers, and a competing wing that could win much-needed progress for working people.

President Trump needs to decide who he stands with. The steelworkers, coal miners, farmers and other regular Americans who he promised to help in the campaign, or the Wall Street billionaires who rigged the economy at our expense? This decision will be the single greatest test of his presidency.

Quite frankly, I am concerned that the Wall Street wing of the White House has hijacked the agenda.

President Trump has already rolled back important federal regulations that keep us safe on the job. His executive orders on immigration criminalize our workplaces and violate our basic principles. And by delaying the fiduciary rule which says financial advisers must act in your best interest, working people could lose more than a quarter of our retirement savings.

Then there’s the attack on our health care.

We opposed the American Health Care Act because it was an all-out attack on workers’ health care security—taking money away from Medicare and Medicaid, increasing the number of uninsured and taxing our health plans. We want health care for all, not the few.

We beat that bad bill, and it sent a powerful message: If you pull a bait and switch on working people—you will fail.

If Congress wants to pass something on health care, they should start by repealing the unfair and unnecessary Cadillac Tax. We’d fight for that. It would pass. I guarantee it!

We are bringing this same focus and determination to the issue of infrastructure. I’m glad President Trump proposed a $1 trillion investment in our roads and bridges. This is the right scale to be talking about, and 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. But it matters how we raise the money and how we spend it. Infrastructure dollars must uphold high labor standards, good wages and other protections. A good plan must use public money—new money—to support American jobs, American resources and American steel!

On every single issue, I’ve given President Trump our ideas and suggestions. I’ve asked him to follow through on his campaign pledges by laying out a vision that reflects America’s priorities, one that raises wages, keeps workers safe, protects retirement security, strengthens unions and provides opportunity for all.

Even before taking office, President Trump used his bully pulpit to tell companies to stay put. I don’t need to tell you this—Carrier was his biggest target. Look, every president should fight to keep good jobs here, because every single job saved means one more family can pay down the mortgage, save for college or retire with dignity.

But it is not enough to simply demand companies stay in America if the jobs ultimately saved provide low wages and little voice. President Trump should use his office and influence to call for an end to workplace intimidation, reject “right to work” once and for all and promote and protect the freedom of every single worker to form or join a union and bargain for a better life.

To put it another way: stop listening to Goldman Sachs and start listening to Chuck Jones.

This is America, the richest country in the world at our richest time in history. Everybody should have the right to a job and the power to make it a good job, and that means you should be able to bargain with your employer, whether you’re in a union or not.

We know the reality of labor today. We know how the law only requires employers to bargain with recognized unions. So listen: We are proposing something bold. Something big. Something better. Every worker, everybody, deserves a job and the power to make it a good job, to bargain for higher wages, safe working conditions and retirement security. Whether you’re black or white, gay or straight, immigrant or native-born, union or not-yet-union.

If you tend crops in North Carolina or clean hotel rooms here in Las Vegas, if you’re an engineer in Seattle or a steelworker in Pennsylvania, you should have the right to bargain with your coworkers for a better life. And employers must abide by that right.

Some might say this is radical. I say it is fundamental. And there has never been a more important time for workers to assert our collective power. In the months ahead, we will apply this innovation in the real world to win real gains.

When all workers have a say in our pay and working conditions, we will start to close the gap between the rich and the rest of us. We will lift up families and communities. We will build the America our founders envisioned, our parents built and our children deserve.

As I speak about the gains we can win and the power we can build, I’m not asking any of us to disregard reality. It won’t be easy. We face long odds. But nothing is set in stone. The future is ours to shape.

And it all starts with solidarity.

I’m talking about real solidarity, not empty gestures and bandwagon posturing. The type of solidarity where the outcome is still uncertain and it may cost you something in the short-term. Solidarity is most important when times are tough and disagreements are strong—when the sun isn’t shining. How we respond to the challenges and opportunities of today and in the days to come will define who and what we are as a labor movement and a nation.

We can’t lose sight of the big picture: The momentum is swinging our way. Collective action is on the rise. America is in the midst of an overdue national conversation about income inequality. There is strong demand for good jobs, fair trade and raising pay. A powerful majority of Americans support unions, and our popularity is growing, especially among young people.

Whether its trade, infrastructure, wages, immigration or health care, unions are ready to be part of the solution.

We know the way forward. Collective action is part of the national conversation now, and that’s a good thing. Don’t get me wrong. Our opponents are bold. They’re well-funded and ruthless. They’re going to come after us and keep up the fight. I say, bring it on!

Unionism works. Solidarity is the strongest thing in this world.

America is hungry for change.

We’ll fight for it. We’ll stand for it. We’ll win it, brothers and sisters, because we’re the ones who wake America up every single day, and put her to bed at night. We roll the steel. We make the tires. We build the roads and stoke the fires. We’ll stand strong. We’ll never run and hide. We’re the American labor movement, and we will not be denied!

Thank you. God bless you, God bless your families and members and all the work you do!

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