Speech | Better Pay and Benefits

Trumka Rallies AFGE Members to Action

Washington, D.C.

Thank you, Brother J. David [Cox] for your friendship and your leadership. Happy Super Bowl Sunday everybody! It’s wonderful to join you at this conference. I’m honored to be here.

I’m privileged to work with a lot of great labor leaders. But none is more dedicated, passionate and humble than your president. He is marching and organizing and bargaining and inspiring. And that’s often just in a single day. Each of you—the members of this great union—are fortunate to have a man like J. David Cox fighting alongside you.

And he’ll be the first to tell you: it’s a fight worth joining. The members of AFGE make America work. You guard our borders, run our government, manage our forests and grasslands and, really, what don’t you do? You are scientists, doctors, nurses, social workers, technicians, administrators and everything in between. You live in every state. You span every so-called division. You serve our nation with pride and lift up your families and communities in the process.

Sisters and brothers, what threatens to pull us apart cannot overcome what binds us together. Dignity. Solidarity. Patriotism. Service. These values transcend partisanship.

During the Obama Administration, I made it clear that the American labor movement must maintain its independence. We are not a wing or a tool of any political party. We stuck to it. We praised President Obama when he moved in a good direction. We challenged him when he didn’t. There is no denying the facts—federal workers lost $182 billion in compensation through wage freezes and stingy pay adjustments over the last 8 years. Now the new regime in Washington threatens to make things a whole lot worse.

First, there is President Trump’s ill-conceived and unnecessary executive order freezing federal employee hiring. In addition, some members of Congress want to do away with defined benefit pensions for federal workers, privatize the VA, eliminate dues deduction, make all new federal hires at-will and block union members from representing their coworkers during business hours.

Apparently, some on the far-right want to turn the United States government into Walmart. Well, I have a message to all those who want to freeze our jobs, cap our pay, endanger our benefits, undermine our service, micromanage our time and make our lives even harder: We are going to fight you every step of the way, and we intend to win!

That’s not all. We’re ready to go on offense. On Tuesday last week, Gerry Connolly in the House and Brian Schatz in the Senate introduced the FAIR Act, which would help to reclaim some of the ground lost during and after the Great Recession. You’re not asking for the world, but a 3.2 percent raise would be a good first step in the right direction. Let’s turn that bill into law!

Listen, as I speak to you about the gains we can win and the power we can build, I’m not asking you to disregard reality. I know it won’t be easy. I know we face long odds. But I also want each of you to consider this simple truth: Nothing is set in stone. The future is ours to shape.

Just look at the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the massive trade deal that threatened our jobs and our economic security. Nobody thought it could be beat. Well, sisters and brothers—it’s now official—we defeated the TPP. For years, we have mobilized and organized in opposition to this bad deal, winning the debate in Congress and on the campaign trail. I want to thank the members of AFGE for your activism in writing letters, making phone calls and pushing your elected representatives to do the right thing. I said it then, and I’ll say it now: America’s working people do not oppose all trade, but we simply will not stand for corporate-written giveaways that lower our wages and standards.

We applaud President Trump for withdrawing the United States from the TPP. Yet no elected official can be judged on any one action. We have to look at the whole picture. The Trump Administration is doing a whole host of things that attack our solidarity, safety, health, wages, benefits, retirement security and workplace rights. This includes nominating a Labor Secretary who is openly hostile to workers. In each of these instances, we are standing up against him forcefully.

On the other hand, if President Trump—or any elected leader—wants to take positive action on infrastructure or trade to create jobs and lift wages, the labor movement is ready to do our part.

You see, we will not make it personal. We need jobs. We believe each and every one of us should be able to work hard, play by the rules and earn a decent life. In return, we want what’s fair. That’s not too much to ask.

When it comes to internal organizing, nobody does it like AFGE. No one needs to tell you what it’s like to organize in a right to work environment. For decades, corporate power has grown, wages have been held down, our share of the workforce has diminished and just about every dime in productivity gains has gone to the richest one percent. The gap between the too-rich and the rest of us is as wide as it has ever been. But working people are starting to respond.

Collective action is on the rise. We are in the midst of an overdue national conversation about how to address income inequality. There is momentum for good jobs, fair trade and raising wages. New research from Pew shows a strong majority of Americans support unions and our approval is even higher among workers ages 18 to 29.

On the other hand, the real possibility exists that our pay and benefits—our rights and our unity—will get a whole lot worse instead of better. The political climate is toxic, and workers are vulnerable to being pitted against one another. The attack on unions is raging in Washington D.C. and states across the country. The next few years will define who and what we are as a labor movement.

Three years ago, hardly anybody thought the era of corporate free trade could be stopped. They thought standing against bad trade was like spitting into the wind. Well, guess what? The skeptics and the naysayers were wrong. We stopped the TPP. We did what couldn’t be done, and we’re going to do it again.

America needs to work for working people. It’s the right thing to do, and it’s good economic policy. When it comes to the American Dream, our union contracts are where the rubber meets the road. Right there. In black-and-white. That’s where we lock down our dreams of proud service and a decent life, so we can buy a house and have a family if we want one, and look forward to a dignified retirement.

We know what we want, and we are prepared to fight. AFGE and America’s unions are ready to stand up, rise up, step forward and do what’s right! You’ve rallied with private sector workers, and I will personally call on every worker in America to stand with you. This is about solidarity, brothers and sisters.

We’re facing the greatest threats federal workers have ever seen, but we’re geared up for battle. We’re seasoned. We’re tough. And we’re big enough to win. So get off your seat and onto your feet. We’ll be marching out the door and into the street!

We can build a better America. I’m a third-generation coal miner from Nemacolin, Pennsylvania, and I know how unionism transformed my community, my family and my life.

Whatever your personal politics, I’m asking you to embrace your union’s plan to fight for higher wages, better benefits and rights on the job. This is bigger than President Trump. It is bigger than any politician or political party. It’s about solidarity, and what we can do to build an economy that works for us, for our lives. Solidarity is the answer. Unionism provides us a path forward.

Everywhere I go, I’m talking about solidarity. Real solidarity. Where your issues are my issues, and my issues are yours. I’m talking about standing together, marching together, fighting together and winning together.

This is our country. This is our time. We are the rising tide. We are the American labor movement. We won’t sit back, shut up, back down or be quiet, and we will not be denied!

God bless you!

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