Speech | Better Pay and Benefits

Trumka to UAW Political Conference: "You wrote a comeback story."

Washington, D.C.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka delivered the following remarks at the 2018 UAW National CAP Conference:

Thank you, Brother Dennis [Williams]! You’re a powerful leader and a true trade unionist. Thank you for inviting me to this important gathering of a great, great union.

Brothers and sisters, I recently had the privilege to lead a strategy session of AFL-CIO unions in the Great Lakes region. We were there to talk about the best ways to build power for working people in this hard political and economic climate.

Your president gave a truly inspiring speech there, and, Brother Dennis, I want to personally thank you for it. You talked about the importance of building political independence; of facing each challenge with strength, not fear; of putting our agenda out front…an agenda that’s first, last and always anchored in the deep principles of trade unionism. You said the backbone of our strength is our members. You said our power base is in our local unions. You said it all, President Williams!

Member education and mobilization at the local level is how we’ll build power for working people’s issues. Our number one issue is raising pay, and the best way to raise pay is in a union.

When you consider why people want to join unions, look no further than the United Auto Workers.

Ten years ago, America’s auto industry was on the brink of extinction. The greatest manufacturing power in the history of the world stood on wobbly legs, the result of corporate mismanagement and bad public policy. Autoworkers didn’t cause this crisis. But you agreed to help fix it. The UAW took a risk, embracing the idea of profit-sharing. By doing so, you gave the auto industry new life. Some politicians said…and I quote…“Let Detroit go bankrupt,” but instead you wrote a comeback story.

As a result of your commitment to a shared American future, our auto industry is as healthy and profitable as it ever has been, and those profit-sharing checks are coming in, I’m told, as strong as $8,000 and even $10,000. Congratulations!

Paychecks like that can change your life. That’s the beauty of good bargaining, of strong negotiations. It’s transformational. It can lift up entire communities.

More American workers need that opportunity. More American workers want solidarity and the real-life gains that come with it.

Our mission is clear. We want more political and economic power for more worker wins! We want good trade deals and major investments in public education and infrastructure and worker training! We want a better tomorrow, brothers and sisters, and we’ll organize for it, we’ll march for it, we’ll fight for it and we’ll vote for it. To those who want to hold us down and keep us poor…to those who want to lower our pay, take our freedom and silence our voice…to those who wanted to let the auto industry die…hear me loud and hear me clear: Your days are numbered! We are the American labor movement. We’re unified! We’re powerful! We’re determined! We’re getting stronger every day, and we will not be denied!

I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for the 2018 election. I’m ready to demonstrate the power of working people. I’m ready to advance our issues and our agenda. I’m ready to return Congress and the states to leaders who actually give a damn about working people. And I’m ready to hold those leaders accountable, once they’re in office, to deliver on the things we need. I don’t think that’s too much to ask!

Life hasn’t been easy for America’s working families. The Great Recession. The auto crisis. Right to work. Privatization. And the broken promises of Donald Trump. But the UAW has stood strong. You’ve done the labor movement proud. You’ve shown what toughness and grit really look like. And mark my words, working together, we are going to rebuild unionism in America…and good lives and a great future. Our labor movement isn’t content to merely survive. We’re going to thrive!

Brothers and sisters, we’ve been on defense for too long. It is time to go on offense.

We want a good job for everyone in America who wants to work. That means the freedom to bargain with your employer, a $15 minimum wage and equal pay for women.

We want health care as a fundamental right, regardless of income, job or a pre-existing condition.

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 want real retirement security. It’s time to protect pensions and expand Social Security! Bigger and better, brothers and sisters!

We want the best infrastructure in the world. Roads. Bridges. Bus service. Rail. High speed internet. Water that doesn’t poison our citizens. It will require trillions of dollars in investment, but the investments will pay dividends for generations. Donald Trump has talked about being a “builder president.” That’s what he’s said again and again and again. Mr. President, it is time to put up or shut up. Let’s start breaking ground. Let’s start laying bricks. Let’s rebuild this country with union labor and do it now!

I’m ready for real progress. I want trade deals that actually work for working people. NAFTA is crushing America’s manufacturing. President Trump said he’d win workers a better deal. Well, guess what? More jobs were outsourced in 2017 than any year in the previous five. Listen to this: Despite soaring profits, America has fewer auto industry jobs than we had just one year ago.

And President Trump’s new tax law gives companies even more money to ship America’s jobs overseas. Working people need a new direction on trade. Trade rules should support labor freedom and end special rights for corporations. And it’s time to end, once and for all, each and every tax break for outsourcing!

Last but not least, we want immigrant workers to have the freedom to negotiate for a better life. These are our brothers and sisters. They make our movement and our country strong. An attack on one worker is an attack on all of us. Congress needs to restore TPS and DACA and finally pass comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship.

This agenda is something the members of the UAW have understood since day one. And it’s the backbone of labor’s unified political program.

We are committed to electing leaders who share our values and support our issues, no matter the letter next to their name.

Our agenda and values come first. That’s how electoral wins will translate into working family policies.

That’s why we will never shy away from opportunities to advance the issues we care about, no matter who happens to be in power. It’s why we must hold every elected leader accountable, regardless of what party they belong to. And it’s a reminder of how important it is to elect more union members to office.

Last week, President Trump delivered his first State of the Union address. He painted an everything-being-great picture of America that while optimistic, is not the reality for most working families. Life may be better for President Trump’s powerful friends and associates, but the working men and women we represent aren’t seeing the same America; and his policies are actually making it worse. The truth is many of the things he says are undermined by the actual policies he supports.

While he’s rightly acknowledged problems in trade, America’s workers are still victim to corporate-designed deals, and last week he offered no solutions to make NAFTA benefit working people.

While President Trump recognizes the crisis of outsourcing jobs, his tax bill actually encourages corporations to do it.

While he promises to put America back to work building infrastructure, he still hasn’t offered up a single nickel to do it.

And slashing regulations, one of President Trump’s biggest applause lines, really means lowering worker pay and making work more dangerous.

Here’s the truth: No matter who's sitting in the White House or what they're saying on TV or what they're tweeting, working people are moving forward. We are united around an agenda to secure our economic future—fighting for the freedom to have a voice on the job, share in the wealth we help create and live better lives.

If President Trump wants to change course and join us in the fight to raise wages and standards, strengthen our democracy and build better lives, I’m ready right now. If not…well, the American people are going to make a choice. But no matter what, we’re going to keep growing our movement, keep building our momentum...laser focused on true victories that bring a better day for working people all across this country.

Brothers and sisters, America is the richest country in the world at our richest time in history, yet not in 100 years has there been such a gap between the super-wealthy and the rest of us. We’re going to keep reaching out, keep reaching up. Working people are still the most powerful force in this nation and around the world.

People feel it. People know it, and people need it. It’s all around us. The American public knows where we stand. That’s why public approval for the labor movement is above 60%, the highest in nearly two decades. And it’s rising.

We are the only organized voice for working people in America. We have no other fidelity. We’ll keep organizing, keep mobilizing, keep educating and keep fighting. We want every worker to have a fair share…today, tomorrow and every single day. It’s the UAW way!

Let me tell you something. I am so proud to stand in front of you. More than 80 years ago, my union—the United Mine Workers of America—formed a series of organizing committees. The Steel Workers Organizing Committee. The Chemical Workers Organizing Committee. The Auto Workers Organizing Committee. Those committees became unions. You know the story. Those committees grew into some of the most powerful organizations in American history and created the greatest middle class the world has ever known!

The United Auto Workers. You’re still organizing. You’re autoworkers, yes, but you’re also teachers and nurses and writers and so much more. And I’m going to ask you to do more and to be even more than that.

Our test of 2018…and beyond…will be to keep raising our public profile. I believe we’re ready to do it. America’s working people came together and charted a path forward at last year’s AFL-CIO Convention in St. Louis. Now we’re heading down that path. We’re ready to make progress. 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 Democrats…when a growing number of young people see the value of democracy and know we can and will change the rules of this economy…when we stop defining victory as the smallest possible loss...and, most of all…when more working people realize our own value and the power of solidarity…that’s when you’ll know unions are truly on the rise.

We’ll create jobs by investing in infrastructure and the basic research that drives manufacturing. We’ll create prosperity by winning more organizing drives, by positioning our unions in growing industries and by negotiating hard to win more of the wealth we create.

Let’s show America what victory looks like!

It’ll take work. It’ll take 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…let’s do it! To take America back! This is our time. This is our moment. We’re ready for a fight. Our opponents are bold. They’re well-funded and ruthless. I say, bring it on! We've taken their best shot and we're still standing, still getting stronger! Thank you. God bless you. God bless the work you do!

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