Trumka Points to Worker Resilience at ILA Convention

Hollywood, Florida

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka delivered the following remarks at the 55th Quadrennial Convention of the International Longshoremen's Association: 

Good morning, ILA! It is great to be here. Thank you, Brother Harold (Daggett), for that very kind introduction. I appreciate your friendship and your leadership. You and the entire executive team are doing a tremendous job leading this great union forward. 

To every ILA member out there, thank you. Thank you for your service. Thank you for your solidarity. Thank you for making this country go. Our ports are filled with American heroes. And you deserve nothing but the very best. 

I got my start in the labor movement more than 50 years ago. And I’ve never been more excited than I am today. Union approval is at 62 percent, the highest in 16 years. 2018 was the biggest year for collective action in three decades. And MIT found that nearly half of non-union workers would vote to join a union today if given the chance. That’s more than 60 million people. Something is happening in America. Working people are rejecting an economy that leaves too many of us behind. 

I look around this room, and I remember why I’m in this fight. We turn bad jobs into good jobs. And, we turn good jobs into great jobs. We don’t do it for the money or the glory, the fame or the fortune. We do it because someone did it for us, and before that, someone did it for them. We do it because we’re called to. That’s who we are. We’re trade unionists. 

I was born and raised in a small community in Southwestern Pennsylvania. I’m a third-generation miner. The coal company owned everything except the church and the union hall. They had the town. But we had the people. We fought. We bled. We sacrificed. Some of us died. And along the way, we turned coal mining into a career that you could raise a family on. Never forget that the American Dream itself was built through solidarity. 

You’ve done the same thing with longshore work. Around the time I was playing football and thinking about where to go to college, Teddy Gleason was securing the future of ILA members for decades to come. Your guaranteed annual income program and container royalty payments were visionary acts of collective bargaining. More than half a century later, those year-end checks are still coming. Gleason’s legacy of leadership lives on today in Brother Harold and the ILA’s six-year master contract which includes wage increases, national health care and no fully automated ports from Maine to Texas. You did that! 

My friend and partner, AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler, will talk more about the future of work tomorrow. But let me say this: The ILA is an example for the rest of the country. Raising wages. Guaranteed health care. A fair share of the wealth we help create. A real voice on the deployment of technology. This is the future we can...and must...win for all of us. Teachers and nurses, pilots and engineers, at our ports and on our factory floors, public and private, rural and urban, men and women, black and white, gay and straight, immigrant and native-born.

Brothers and sisters, are you with me? 

In the richest country in the world...at our richest point in history...every worker should be paid enough to support their family. One job should be enough! 

No one should go broke just because they get sick. 

No one should die on the job. 

No one should be paid less because of their gender. 

No one should be fired for who they are. 

Everyone should have a voice. 

Everyone should have a fair shot and a fair shake. 

And everyone should be able to form a union. 

This is our time. This is our moment. This is our country. And we’re taking it back for the people who work! 

I mentioned football earlier. I had a high school coach named Bear Stuvek. He taught me about perseverance, dedication and good, old-fashioned hard work. Bear used to put us through a drill called “Bull in the Ring.” I’m certain it would be banned today.

Twelve of my teammates would circle around me. Bear would count off...1, 2, 3, 4...1, 2, 3, 4. He’d call the ones. They’d come and hit me. Then the twos. Then the threes and so on. Bear would keep calling their numbers. And, I’d keep getting hit...harder and harder. 

Before long, I’d start hitting back. I’d hit back with everything I had. I’d hit back until they finally got the message that while you may knock me down, you will NEVER knock me out. You won’t make me quit, give up or give in.

The labor movement...we are that bull in the ring. We’ve been getting hit over...and over...and over again. Every single day. From every direction.

Trade. Taxes. Immigration.

Wages. Health care. Retirement.

Overtime. Workplace safety. The freedom to form a union.

The forces of corporate greed are still trying to deny you the right to strike by moving longshoremen under the Railway Labor Act. Well, the last time I checked the ILA hasn’t gone on strike since 1977. But you better believe the right to strike has provided the leverage to put more money in your pockets.

Anti-worker politicians are also looking for new excuses to waive the Jones Act. Let me tell you something: I was offended when the right-wing tried to use the tragedy in Puerto Rico to scapegoat a law protecting American jobs and American workers. A Jones Act waiver would not have saved a single life in Puerto Rico. You know what saved lives on that island? The leadership, fundraising, dedication, skills and patriotism of the International Longshoremen’s Association! Thank you for that! 

They keep taking shots at us. But the labor movement is growing stronger. When Bear put me in that ring, sometimes I’d be on the ground so long I’d wonder whether I should get up. Somehow I always did. Something inside me made me do that.

Workers across this country are embracing this part of ourselves. We are putting aspiration above fear. We’re punching back. We’re standing strong. We’re fighting back. And we’re finally starting to go on offense. 

I couldn’t come here today without talking about the most important piece of legislation to be introduced in a long, long time. It’s called the PRO Act—Protecting the Right to Organize. In other words, letting us do our jobs without interference from anti-union employers or anti-worker politicians. 

It protects the right to strike. It rolls back right to work. It includes first contract arbitration, substantial relief for workers whose rights have been violated and real penalties for employers who break the law. 

If President Trump wants to build an economy that’s good for workers and not just Wall Street, he should stop giving tax cuts to corporations and the 1%, and demand that Congress send him the PRO Act today. 

Do your job so we can do ours!

We are also going on offense to win a better, fairer, NAFTA. Listen, I know how important global trade is to your industry. We support trade. 

For too long, if you opposed a trade agreement for any reason, you were belittled as a protectionist. But our movement is trying to shape globalization...not stop it. 

We are working to change the debate by focusing on trade rules, the structures that, for too long, have killed jobs and lowered wages.

Of course, we should open up new markets for our products and do business with people all over the world. We want our nation’s ports humming.

The real challenge is to advance trade policy that creates shared prosperity and makes the world stronger and safer. By that standard, NAFTA has been a miserable failure. 

The ILA has shown great solidarity on this issue. 

You reject the false idea that to move our goods to market through the ports of Charleston, Savannah and Baltimore, we need to put union members on the unemployment line in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan. 

That’s not trade. It’s greed. 

Unfortunately, the current new NAFTA proposal being championed by the Trump administration falls short of what we need. It lacks any real way to enforce higher labor standards. A trade agreement that can’t be enforced is completely useless. Let me put it another way: Would you ever accept a collective bargaining agreement that is unenforceable? I didn’t think so. 

It is time for all three countries to go back to the drawing board and come up with an agreement that actually works for workers. Bring us a deal like that, and we’ll support it.

But if the president insists on a premature vote, we will have no choice but to oppose it.

Workers are fed up with this race to the bottom. We’re fired up. And, we’re not gonna take it anymore!

We reject those who tell us the NAFTA model is “inevitable.”

We reject a world of obscene inequality and choose a world of broadly shared prosperity.

We deserve better. We demand better. We’re fighting for better. And, we’re going to win better!

Protecting the right to organize and winning a new direction on trade is part of our broad vision for a better America.

To get there, we need to keep electing pro-worker candidates. 

At our 2017 AFL-CIO Convention, we passed a resolution committing the labor movement to electing more union members to public office. 

And in 2018, we did it. 

Because of our efforts recruiting, training and supporting these candidates, nearly 1,000 additional union members are at the decision making table today. And that’s led to the passage of pro-worker legislation from coast to coast and everywhere in between. 

Brothers and sisters, we need to carry this momentum into 2020. 

There are many candidates running for president. Some are new faces. Many are friends...even good friends. But, this election is so much bigger than any individual.

2020 cannot be about personalities. It MUST be about workers.

That means talking to us and getting to know us. It means visiting our worksites and our union halls. It means marching on our picket lines. It means learning about our hopes and dreams...and understanding our concerns. 

It means an agenda that is unambiguously pro-worker and pro-union. 

It means having a plan to make it easier to form unions and harder to bust them. It means knowing inside and out how our trade, tax, labor and immigration policies have been used to batter working families. And being ready to fix them on day one. 

It means not just talking about infrastructure, but actually getting the job done. 

It means filling the NLRB, the Labor Department, every single government agency and the courts with champions of collective bargaining.

And the first test of whether or not you’ll be a pro-union president is how you treat the people who work on your campaign. 

So, here’s my message to every candidate for president: Show us how committed you are to unionism and allow your campaign workers to organize. Be more than just a neutral party. Be an active partner. 

Many of the candidates I’ve spoken with have already made this commitment, and so far, a few campaigns have secured union cards. I hope others will follow suit. 

The late governor of New York, Mario Cuomo, said you campaign in poetry...and you govern in prose. But for too long, our elected leaders have campaigned in promises and governed in excuses. 

Or worse. 

2020 must be different. 

The stakes are too high, and working people are drawing a line in the sand this time. 

We’re refusing to settle for less in this election. Not when...in some parts of the country...it’s still harder to form a union than climb a mountain. Not when 40 percent of Americans don’t have $400 in the bank for an emergency. Not when more than 60 percent of workers haven’t seen a raise in more than a year, but CEO profits are at record highs!

Working people built this country from the ground up. We keep her running every day. Yet far too often, we’ve been disrespected, disregarded and abandoned. So, we are demanding from a president the same thing we demand of ourselves: Hard work. Integrity. Honor. Guts. Grit. And, sacrifice. It doesn’t matter if there’s a D, R or I next to your name. If you refuse to truly make the cause of workers your own, then we cannot endorse you. 

But...if you join us...and fight for us…and walk in our shoes...we will move heaven and earth to elect you. And together, we can put this country back where it belongs...in the hands of the workers who make it go.

We’ll march for it. We’ll organize for it. We’ll fight for it.

Brothers and sisters, are you ready to fight? ARE YOU READY TO FIGHT?

We’re going to fight for higher pay.

We’re going to fight for better health care.

We’re going to fight for a secure retirement.

And, we’re going to fight for an economy where every worker...every single worker...has the freedom to form a union and bargain collectively.

We’ve earned it, brothers and sisters. We teach, heal and make. We package, print and bake. We dock the ships, fight the fires and lift the loads. We care for the sick. We mine the coal. We serve our nation with dignity and pride. We stand tall. We don’t run and hide. We wake our country up every single day, and we tuck her into bed at night!

This is our time! This is our moment!

WE are the American labor movement...and we will not...WE WILL NOT...be denied!

Thank you, ILA! God bless you!