Speech | Civil Rights · Labor Law · Infrastructure · Better Pay and Benefits · Trade · Manufacturing

Trumka: Union Members Will Rebuild America

The following are AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka's remarks at the Christian Science Monitor Labor Day Breakfast, as prepared:

Thank you, Linda (Feldmann), for that introduction. And thank you all for being here. I hope that wherever you are logging in from, you are healthy and safe. 

I look forward to this discussion every year as a kickoff to Labor Day. In many ways, it’s a progress report on the American labor movement. 

And it is a tribute to the leadership and resilience of our movement that—even when the state of our Union is in such disarray—the state of America’s unions is strong. 

Union members have answered the call of COVID-19. Every day and in every way. We’ve served. We’ve sacrificed. We’ve healed. We’ve done it all. We’ve honored the country we love, the country unions built. 

And that’s why new research from Gallup released just this morning puts our approval rating at 65 percent, the highest since 2003 and one of our best marks in more than half a century.

The problem—and more than that, the clear and present danger—is that too many of our country’s leaders haven’t honored us. They haven’t served us well. They haven’t protected us. They’re letting our country crumble and our people suffer.

Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell are at the top of that list.

Remember what Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats did to make America whole. They passed the HEROES Act on May 15. That’s SIXTEEN weeks ago tomorrow. More than a HUNDRED days. It would protect our paychecks and pensions and public services. It would save lives. But Mitch McConnell and his anti-worker colleagues in the Senate have refused to act. 

American workers are sitting awake at night—worrying, suffering, mourning. Our bills are mounting up on kitchen tables because that bill sits on Mitch McConnell’s desk. 

Across America, some governors and mayors have tried to pick up the slack. They deserve credit—but they can’t do it alone. An unprecedented national crisis requires a plan from the top. 

It requires vision and competence and management skills. It requires humility, agility and perseverance. And yes, compassion—compassion for everyone who calls this country home.

The crises we confront today would challenge even America’s most revered presidents. Yet our lives depend on the competence and compassion of Donald Trump. He is simply the worst president to have at the worst time. 

And the worst part about this devastating moment is that it didn’t have to be this way. 

In 2016, enough union members defected from the Democratic Party to tip the balance in places like Michigan and my home state of Pennsylvania. And when Trump was elected, I committed to working with the president on issues where we might agree. I owed that to every working person out there, whether they voted for Trump or Hillary Clinton, or didn’t vote at all. Because if working people are strong, America is strong. 

At the time, trade, infrastructure and manufacturing stood out as areas for common ground. But Donald Trump failed. He failed to seek common ground with us. He failed to consult common sense or demonstrate common decency. He broke his promises on infrastructure and manufacturing. The jobs he said were coming never came. Instead of rebuilding America, he’s torn it apart. And his tax cut for the ultra-rich accelerated the outsourcing of good-paying American jobs and worsened inequality. On trade, yes, working people made some progress. But let’s get the facts right. Speaker Pelosi stood with us in blocking the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement until Trump finally made it enforceable. Never forget: working people rewrote NAFTA. The president just rode our coattails. 

But it’s more than the broken promises that have made Donald Trump such a reckless president for working people. It’s the relentless, reprehensible attacks. There are too many examples to name this morning, but let me point out just a few. 

Donald Trump’s appointments, from the Supreme Court to the National Labor Relations Board to the Department of Labor, have made it their mission to undermine collective bargaining. Every rule...every decision...every move...has made it harder to live and work in America. Not since Ronald Reagan fired the air traffic controllers have we seen this level of union-busting from the White House. 

Donald Trump’s disregard for workplace health and safety has been dangerous, delinquent and deadly. He has never had a full-time director of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. There are fewer OSHA inspectors today than at any point since it was founded. He’s weakened enforcement by the Mine Safety and Health Administration, forcing miners to work in hazardous conditions. As a former miner and as the son and grandson of miners, that offends me personally. And he’s halted new rules on combustible dust, construction noise, silica and even infectious disease. 

Donald Trump inherited a pandemic playbook from his predecessor and tossed it in the trash. He abandoned a workplace infectious disease standard that would have protected our front-line heroes from COVID-19. And even after the virus hit, he refused to issue a national workplace safety standard, leaving millions vulnerable to infection and in too many cases, death.

What have we learned from all of this? We’ve learned that working people cannot afford Donald Trump. We’ve learned that workers might not be able to survive another four years with Donald Trump. Meanwhile, what has Donald Trump learned? Absolutely nothing. After months of pandemic politics and generations of systemic racism, Trump is pouring gasoline on the fire. It is a transparent, ugly, last-ditch effort to scare some people into voting for him and scare others away from voting at all. Our country is sick, and Donald Trump is making it worse. Our economy is weakening, and Donald Trump is making it worse. America is hurting, and Donald Trump is making it worse. America needs healing, and he gives us division. America needs hope, and he gives us tweets. 

Here is the plain truth: For the good of the country we love, working people gave Donald Trump every last chance to prove himself. But it’s clearer than ever that for working people to defeat the coronavirus, economic inequality and systemic racism, we’re going to have to remove this dangerous president from the White House. 

Working people are ready to keep pushing America forward. We’re ready to organize and form new unions. We’re ready to mobilize and pass the HEROES Act and the PRO Act so workers can join a union freely and fairly. We’re ready to elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris and union members and allies from coast to coast. We’re ready to get out the vote and then protect those votes. There is still nothing stronger than a united American labor movement! 

In May of 1964, President Lyndon Johnson shared his vision of a Great Society. It was a vision of health and education and American community. But more than anything else, it was a vision built on the idea that we have the agency to make our future.

LBJ said: “There are those timid souls who say this battle cannot be won; that we are condemned to a soulless wealth. I do not agree. We have the power to shape the civilization that we want. But we need your will, your labor, your heart.” 

This is a scary time. Donald Trump’s America is a dangerous place. And there are those who right now are again predicting our country’s demise. 

But America’s unions know better! America’s workers prove it every day!

This Labor Day, with our will and our heart, we are ready to carry the nation we love through this dark day and shape a greater society.

This fall, with our votes, union members will secure the future we want and save the country we’ve built.

Thank you. And God bless you. 

I look forward to your questions.


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